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Almost All Terror Plots Since 9-11 Manufactured by F.B.I. 15,000+ Informants

Posted on Sunday, 11th September 2011 @ 10:09 AM by Text Size A | A | A

James Cromitie [7] was a man
of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed
exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts
using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the
whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once
said
[8].

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman
after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine,
Cromitie had lots of worries—convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping
around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his
felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in
a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real
big
[9],” he’d say. “I just
feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling
former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck
up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how
the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new
friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood
asked
[10].

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

Crunch the Numbers

We analyzed
the prosecutions of 508 alleged domestic terrorists. View them by
affiliation or state, or play with the full data set.

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

Abu Sayyaf
Al Qaeda
Al Shabaab
Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades
Al-Barakat
Al-Fuqra
Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation
Al-Ittihad Al-Islami
Alleged affiliation
Ansar al-Islam
Free Government of Vietnam
Hamas
Hezbollah
Iraqi insurgency
Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh
Jemaah Islamiyah
Khalistan Commando Force (KCF)
Lashkar-e-Taiba
Mujahideen-e-Khalq
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
FARC
Taliban
Tamil Tigers
Terrorist training camps in AfPak
AUC

Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked
with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked
Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie
said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because
they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same
way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai
attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen
targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie
told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The
pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire
Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International
Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the
explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?”
he
offered
[11]. “Two Stingers,
rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for
Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed
Hussain
[12], and he was a paid
informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority,
consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to
$2.6   billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field
agents   and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of
emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the
bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as
Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States.
In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s
records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one
former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip
pockets.”

The   bureau now maintains a roster of
15,000 spies, some paid as much as $100,000 per case, many of them
tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United  States.

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even
consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them
as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical
peer   might be COINTELPRO [13],   the program the bureau ran from
the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and   marginalize organizations
ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights   and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely
guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those
figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500
informant
[14]s [14]. In 1980, officials disclosed there
were 2,800
[15]. Six years later, following
the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau
informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported
[15] in 1986. And according
to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its
fiscal year 2008
budget authorization request
[16],
the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November
2004 presidential directive demanding
an increase
[17] in “human
source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7
million
[18] for a program to
keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage
informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when
officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack
from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe
groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the
efforts   of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a
franchise   model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry
out attacks   in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees
it, is a lone   wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as
“preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and
neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To
that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists,
but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those
disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the
opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides
the   plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people
who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names
are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as
immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an
undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical.
Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even
lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating
information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press
conference
[19] announcing
another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations
are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington
Metro
[20] bombing plot? The
New York subway
[21] plot? The
guys who planned to blow up the Sears
Tower
[22]? The teenager
seeking to bomb a Portland
Christmas tree
[23] lighting?
Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an
FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative
Reporting  Program at the University of California-Berkeley have
examined  prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as
defined by  the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

  • Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants,
    many  of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as
    $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or
    immigration   violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see
    our charts page
    [5] and searchable
    database
    [24].)
  • Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158
    defendants.  Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by
    an agent  provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
  • With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror
    plots  of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are
    Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing
    [25] the New York City subway
    system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed
    Hadayet
    [26], an Egyptian who
    opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and
    failed Times Square bomber Faisal
    Shahzad
    [27].)
  • In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and
    the  target were not recorded—making it hard for defendants claiming
    entrapment to prove their case.
  • Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court,
    even  when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a
    trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about
is that defendants  would not have done anything if not kicked in the
ass by government  agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented
a man caught in a  2004 sting involving New
York’s Herald Square
[21]
subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can
claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters
argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly
is  willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting
right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says
Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New
York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna
Six
[28],  an alleged terror
cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say,  ‘Yeah, let’s go
bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Terms
of Entrapment

A guide to
counterterrorism jargon.

1001: Known as the “Al Capone,” Title 18, Section 1001 [29]
of the federal criminal code covers the crime of lying to federal
agents. Just as the government prosecuted Capone for tax violations [30], it has frequently used 1001 against terrorism defendants [31] whose crimes or affiliations it
couldn’t prove in court.

Agent provocateur: An informant or undercover operative
who incites a target to take unlawful action [32]; the phrase originally described strikebreakers trying to provoke violence [33].

Assessment: The term for a 72-hour investigation [34]—which may include surveillance—that
FBI agents can launch without having a predicate [35] (see below).

COINTELPRO
[13]:
From 1956 to 1971,
the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program attempted to infiltrate and sometimes harass domestic
political groups
[36], from the
Ku Klux Klan to the National Lawyers Guild and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference
[37].

DIOG: The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide [35],  a 258-page FBI manual for
undercover operations and the use of  informants. Recently revised to
allow agents to look for  information—including going through someone’s
trash—about a person who is not formally being investigated
[38], sometimes to flip them as an
informant.

Domain Management: An FBI data-mining and analysis program [35] used to map US communities along
ethnic and religious lines.

Hip pocket: An unregistered informant who provides information [39] and tips to FBI agents but whose
information is not used in court.

Joint Terrorism Task Force: A partnership among
federal and local law enforcement agencies
[40]; through it, for example, FBI agents
can join forces with
immigration agents
[41] to put
the squeeze on someone to become an informant.

Material support: Providing help to a designated
foreign terrorist organization. This can include money, lodging, training, documents, weapons, and
personnel
[42]—including
oneself, and including joining a terrorist cell dreamed up by the FBI [43].

Operator: Someone who wants to be a terrorist; in
the FBI’s view, sympathizers
become operators
[2].

Predicate: Information clearly suggesting that an
individual is involved in unlawful activity; it’s required for the FBI to start an investigation [35].

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism
stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater
focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn
says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on
literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it
receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations
have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and
preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric
Holder   in a December 2010
speech
[44]   to Muslim lawyers
and civil rights activists. President Obama’s   Department of Justice
has announced sting-related prosecutions at an   even faster clip than
the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since   January 2009. With
the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous   conflict, the FBI doesn’t
have an exit strategy.

Located deep in a wooded area on a
Marine Corps base west of Interstate 95—a setting familiar from Silence
of the Lambs
—is the sandstone fortress of the FBI Academy in
Quantico, Virginia. This building, erected under J. Edgar Hoover, is
where to this day every FBI special agent is trained.

J. Stephen Tidwell graduated from the academy in 1981 and over the
years rose to executive assistant director, one of the 10 highest
positions in the FBI; in 2008, he coauthored the Domestic Investigations
and Operations Guide, or DIOG
[45] (PDF), the manual for what
agents and informants can and cannot do.

A former Texas cop, Tidwell is a barrel-chested man with
close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He’s led some of the FBI’s
highest-profile investigations, including the DC sniper case and the
probe of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

On a cloudy spring afternoon, Tidwell, dressed in khakis and a blue
sweater, drove me in his black Ford F-350 through Hogan’s Alley
[46]—a   10-acre Potemkin village
with houses, bars, stores, and a hotel.  Agents  learning the craft
role-play stings, busts, and bank robberies  here,  and inside jokes and
pop-culture references litter the place  (which  itself gets its name
from a 19th-century comic strip). At one  end of the  town is the
Biograph Theater, named for the Chicago movie  house where  FBI agents
gunned down John
Dillinger
[47] in 1934. (“See,”
Tidwell says. “The FBI has a sense of humor.”)

Inside the academy, a more somber tone prevails. Plaques everywhere
honor agents who have been killed on the job. Tidwell takes me to one
that commemorates John O’Neill, who became chief of the bureau’s
then-tiny counterterrorism section in 1995. For years before retiring
from the FBI, O’Neill
warned
[48]   of Al Qaeda’s
increasing threat, to no avail. In late August 2001, he   left the
bureau to take a job as head of security for the World Trade   Center,
where he died 19 days later at the hands of the enemy he’d told   the
FBI it should fear. The agents he had trained would end up  reshaping
the bureau’s counterterrorism operations.

Before 9/11, FBI agents considered chasing terrorists an undesirable
career path, and their training did not distinguish between Islamic
terror tactics and those employed by groups like the Irish Republican
Army. “A bombing case is a bombing case,” Dale Watson, who was the FBI’s
counterterrorism chief on 9/11, said in a December 2004 deposition.
The  FBI also did not train agents in Arabic or require most of them to
learn about radical Islam. “I don’t necessarily think you have to know
everything about the Ku Klux Klan to investigate a church bombing,”
Watson said. The FBI had only one Arabic speaker [49] in New York City and fewer than 10
nationwide.

But shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush called FBI Director
Robert Mueller to Camp David. His message: never again. And so Mueller
committed to turn the FBI into a counterintelligence organization
rivaling Britain’s MI5 in its capacity for surveillance and clandestine
activity. Federal law enforcement went from a focus on fighting
crime to preventing   crime; instead of accountants and
lawyers cracking crime syndicates,   the bureau would focus on Jack
Bauer-style operators disrupting terror   groups.

To help run the counterterrorism section, Mueller drafted Arthur
Cummings, a former Navy SEAL who’d investigated the first World Trade
Center bombing. Cummings pressed agents to focus not only on their
immediate target, but also on the extended web of people linked to the
target. “We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to become an
operator, and we want to catch them when they step over that line to
operator,” Cummings says. “Sometimes, that step takes 10 years. Other
times, it takes 10 minutes.” The FBI’s goal is to create a hostile
environment for terrorist recruiters and operators—by raising the risk
of even the smallest step toward violent action. It’s a form of
deterrence, an adaptation of the “broken windows” theory used to fight
urban crime. Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there
hasn’t been a successful large-scale attack against the United States
since 9/11. But what can’t be answered—as many former and current FBI
agents acknowledge—is how many of the bureau’s targets would have
taken   the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.

So how did the FBI build its
informant network? It began by asking   where US Muslims lived. Four
years after 9/11, the bureau brought in a   CIA expert on
intelligence-gathering methods named Phil Mudd [50].   His tool of choice was a
data-mining system using commercially   available information, as well
as government data such as immigration   records, to pinpoint the
demographics of specific ethnic and religious   communities—say,
Iranians in Beverly Hills or Pakistanis in the DC   suburbs.

The FBI officially denies that the program, known as Domain
Management, works this way—its purpose, the bureau says, is simply to
help allocate resources according to threats. But FBI agents told me
that with counterterrorism as the bureau’s top priority, agents often
look for those threats in Muslim communities—and Domain Management
allows them to quickly understand those communities’ makeup. One
high-ranking former FBI official jokingly referred to it as “Battlefield
Management.”

Some FBI veterans criticized the program as unproductive and
intrusive—one told Mudd during a high-level meeting that he’d pushed the
bureau to “the dark side.” That tension has its roots in the stark
difference between the FBI and the CIA: While the latter is free to
operate internationally without regard to constitutional rights, the FBI
must respect those rights in domestic investigations, and Mudd’s
critics saw the idea of targeting Americans based on their ethnicity and
religion as a step too far.

Nonetheless, Domain Management quickly became the
foundation for the    FBI’s counterterrorism dragnet. Using the
demographic data, field   agents  were directed to target specific
communities to recruit   informants.  Some agents were assigned to the
task full time. And across   the bureau,  agents’ annual performance
evaluations are now based in   part on their  recruiting efforts.

People cooperate with law enforcement for fairly simple reasons: ego,
patriotism, money, or coercion. The FBI’s recruitment has relied
heavily on the latter. One tried-and-true method is to flip someone
facing criminal charges. But since 9/11 the FBI has also relied heavily
on Immigration and
Customs Enforcement
[41],
with which it has worked closely as part of increased interagency
coordination. A typical scenario will play out like this: An FBI agent
trying to get someone to cooperate will look for evidence that the
person has immigration troubles. If they do, he can ask ICE to begin or
expedite deportation proceedings. If the immigrant then chooses to
cooperate, the FBI will tell the court that he is a valuable asset,
averting deportation.

A well-muscled   49-year-old  with a shaved
scalp, Craig Monteilh has been a versatile snitch:  He’s pretended to
be a white  supremacist, a Russian   hit man, a  Sicilian drug
trafficker, and a French-Syrian Muslim.

Sometimes, the target of this kind of push is the one person in a
mosque who will know everyone’s business—the imam. Two Islamic religious
leaders, Foad Farahi [51]
in Miami and Sheikh Tarek Saleh in New York City, are currently
fighting deportation proceedings that, they claim, began after they
refused to become FBI assets. The Muslim American Society Immigrant
Justice Center has filed similar complaints on behalf of seven other
Muslims with the Department of Homeland Security.

Once someone has signed on as an informant, the first assignment is
often a fishing expedition. Informants have said in court testimony
that   FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a
specific target or “predicate”—the term of art for the reason why
someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil
law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent.

“The FBI is now telling agents they can go into houses of worship
without probable cause,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the
San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “That raises
serious constitutional issues.”

Tidwell himself will soon have to defend these practices in
court—he’s among those named in a class-action
lawsuit
[52] (PDF) over an
informant’s allegation that the FBI used him to spy on a number of
mosques in Southern California.

That informant, Craig Monteilh, is a convicted felon who made his
money ripping off cocaine dealers before becoming an asset for the Drug
Enforcement Administration and later the FBI. A well-muscled
49-year-old  with a shaved scalp, Monteilh has been a particularly
versatile snitch:  He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian
hit man, and a  Sicilian drug trafficker. He says when the FBI sent him
into mosques  (posing as a French-Syrian Muslim), he was told to act
as  a  decoy for  any radicals who might seek to convert him—and to look
for  information  to help flip congregants as informants, such as
immigration  status,  extramarital relationships, criminal activities,
and drug use.   “Blackmail is the ultimate goal,” Monteilh says.

Officially, the FBI denies it blackmails informants. “We are
prohibited from using threats or coercion,” says Kathleen Wright, an FBI
spokeswoman. (She acknowledges that the bureau has prevented helpful
informants from being deported.)

FBI veterans say reality is different from the official line. “We
could go to a source and say, ‘We know you’re having an affair. If you
work with us, we won’t tell your wife,'” says a former top FBI
counterterrorism official. “Would we actually call the wife if the
source doesn’t cooperate? Not always. You do get into ethics here—is
this the right thing to do?—but legally this isn’t a question. If you
obtained the information legally, then you can use it however you
want.”

But eventually, Monteilh’s operation imploded in spectacular fashion.
In December 2007, police in Irvine, California, charged him with
bilking two women out of $157,000 as part of an alleged human growth
hormone scam. Monteilh has maintained it was actually part of an FBI
investigation, and that agents instructed him to plead guilty to a
grand-theft charge and serve eight months so as not to blow his cover.
The FBI would “clean up” the charge later, Monteilh says he was told.
That didn’t happen, and Monteilh has alleged in court filings that
the    government put him in danger by letting fellow inmates know that
he  was   an informant. (FBI agents told me the bureau wouldn’t advise
an    informant to plead guilty to a state criminal charge; instead,
agents    would work with local prosecutors to delay or dismiss the
charge.)

The class-action suit, filed by the ACLU, alleges that Tidwell, then
the bureau’s Los Angeles-based assistant director, signed off on
Monteilh’s operation. And Tidwell says he’s eager to defend the bureau
in court. “There is not the blanket suspicion of the Muslim community
that they think there is,” Tidwell says. “We’re just looking for the
bad   guys. Anything the FBI does is going to be interpreted as
monitoring   Muslims. I would tell [critics]: ‘Do you really think I
have the time   and money to monitor all the mosques and Arab American
organizations? We   don’t. And I don’t want to.'”

Shady informants, of course, are as
old as the FBI; one saying in the    bureau is, “To catch the devil,
you have to go to hell.” Another is,    “The only problem worse than
having an informant is not having an    informant.” Back in the ’80s,
the FBI made a cottage industry of drug    stings—a source of countless
Hollywood plots, often involving briefcases    full of cocaine and Miami
as the backdrop.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that one of the earliest known terrorism
stings also unfolded in Miami, though it wasn’t launched by the FBI.
Instead the protagonist was a Canadian bodyguard and, as a Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper put it in 2002 [53],
“a 340-pound man with a fondness for firearms and strippers.” He
subscribed to Soldier
of Fortune
[54] and hung
around a police supply store on a desolate stretch of Hollywood
Boulevard, north of Miami.

Howard Gilbert aspired to be a CIA agent but lacked pertinent
experience. So to pad his résumé, he hatched a plan to infiltrate a
mosque in the suburb of Pembroke Pines by posing as a Muslim convert
named Saif Allah [55].
He told congregants that he was a former Marine and a security
expert,   and one night in late 2000, he gave a speech about the plight
of   Palestinians.

“That was truly the night that launched me into the terrorist
umbrella of South Florida,” Gilbert would later brag [56]
to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nineteen-year-old congregant Imran Mandhai, stirred by the oration,
approached Gilbert and asked if he could provide him weapons and
training. Gilbert, who had been providing information to the FBI,
contacted his handlers and asked for more money to work on the case. (He
later claimed that the bureau had paid him $6,000.) But he
ultimately    couldn’t deliver—the target had sensed something fishy
about his new    friend.

The bureau also brought in Elie Assaad [57],
a seasoned informant originally from Lebanon. He told Mandhai that
he    was an associate of Osama bin Laden tasked with establishing a
training   camp in the United States. Gilbert suggested attacking
electrical   substations in South Florida, and Assaad offered to provide
a weapon.   FBI agents then arrested Mandhai; he pleaded guilty in
federal court and   was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. It was a
model of what   would become the bureau’s primary counterterrorism
M.O.—identifying a   target, offering a plot, and then pouncing.

"These guys were
homeless types," one former FBI official says about the alleged
Sears Tower plotters. "And yes, we did show a picture where
somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?": Illustration:
Jeffrey Smith“These
guys were homeless types,” one former FBI official says about the
alleged Sears Tower plotters. “And yes, we did show a picture where
somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?”
Illustration:
Jeffrey SmithGilbert himself didn’t get to bask in his
glory; he never worked for     the FBI again and died in 2004. Assaad,
for his part, ran into some     trouble when his pregnant wife called
911. She said Assaad had beaten     and choked her to the point that she
became
afraid
[58] for her unborn
baby; he was arrested, but in the end his wife refused to press charges.

The jail stint didn’t keep Assaad from working for the FBI on what
would turn out to be perhaps the most high-profile terrorism bust of
the    post-9/11 era. In 2005, the bureau got
a tip
[59] from an informant
about a group of alleged terrorists in Miami’s Liberty City
neighborhood. The targets were seven men
[60]—some African American, others
Haitian—who called themselves the “Seas of
David”
[61]     and ascribed to
religious beliefs that blended Judaism,  Christianity,    and Islam. The
men were martial-arts enthusiasts who  operated out of a    dilapidated
warehouse, where they also taught  classes for local kids.    The Seas
of David’s leader was Narseal Batiste [62], the son of a Louisiana preacher,
father of four, and a former Guardian Angel.

In response to the informant’s tip, the FBI had him wear a wire
during meetings with the men, but he wasn’t able to engage them in
conversations about terrorist plots. So he introduced the group to
Assaad, now playing an Al Qaeda operative. At the informant’s request,
Batiste took photographs of the FBI office in North Miami Beach and
was    caught on tape discussing a notion to bomb the Sears Tower in
Chicago.   Assaad led Batiste, and later the other men, in swearing an
oath to Al   Qaeda, though the ceremony (recorded and entered into
evidence at  trial)  bore a certain “Who’s on First?” flavor:

God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact,” Assaad
said as he and Batiste sat in his car. “Repeat after me.”

“Okay. Allah’s pledge is upon you.”

“No, you have to repeat exactly. God’s pledge is upon me, and so
is his compact
. You have to repeat.”

Ultimately, the undercover recordings
suggest     that  Batiste was mostly trying to shake down his
“terrorist” friend.

“Well, I can’t say Allah?” Batiste asked.

“Yeah, but this is an English version because Allah, you can say
whatever you want, but—”

“Okay. Of course.”

“Okay.”

Allah’s pledge is upon me. And so is his compact,” Batiste
said, adding: “That means his angels, right?”

“Uh, huh. To commit myself,” Assaad continued.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother,” Batiste repeated.

“Uh. That’s, uh, what’s your, uh, what’s your name, brother?”

“Ah, Brother Naz.”

“Okay. To commit myself,” the informant repeated.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother.”

“You’re not—you have to say your name!” Assaad cried.

“Naz. Naz.”

“Uh. To commit myself. I am Brother Naz. You can say, ‘To
commit myself
.'”

To commit myself, Brother Naz.”

Things went smoothly until Assaad got to a reference to being
“protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directive of Al
Qaeda.”

Here Batiste stopped. “And to…what is the directive of?”

Directive of Al Qaeda,” the informant answered.

“So now let me ask you this part here. That means that Al Qaeda will
be over us?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Assaad said. “It’s an alliance.”

“Oh. Well…” Batiste said, sounding resigned.

“It’s an alliance, but it’s like a commitment, by, uh, like, we
respect your rules. You respect our rules,” Assaad explained.

“Uh, huh,” Batiste mumbled.

And to the directive of Al Qaeda,” Assaad said, waiting for
Batiste to repeat.

“Okay, can I say an alliance?” Batiste asked. “And to the
alliance of Al Qaeda?

Of the alliance, of the directive—” Assaad said, catching
himself. “You know what you can say? And to the directive and the
alliance of Al Qaeda
.”

“Okay, directive and alliance of Al Qaeda,” Batiste said.

“Okay,” the informant said. “Now officially you have commitment and
we have alliance between each other. And welcome, Brother Naz, to Al
Qaeda.”

Or not. Ultimately, the undercover recordings made by Assaad suggest
that Batiste, who had a failing drywall business and had trouble
making   the rent for the warehouse, was mostly trying to shake down his
“terrorist” friend. After first asking the informant for $50,000,
Batiste is recorded in conversation after conversation asking how
soon     he’ll have the cash.

“Let me ask you a question,” he says in one exchange. “Once I give
you an account number, how long do you think it’s gonna take to get me
something in?”

“So you is scratching my back, [I’m] scratching your back—we’re like
this,” Assaad dodged.

“Right,” Batiste said.

“When  we put forth a case like that to
suggest to the  American   public  that  we’re protecting them, we’re
not protecting  them. The   agents  back in the  bullpen, they know it’s
not true.”

The money never materialized. Neither did any specific terrorist
plot. Nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged (PDF
[63])     Batiste and his
cohorts—whom the media dubbed the Liberty City     Seven—with conspiracy
to support terrorism, destroy buildings, and levy     war against the
US government. Perhaps the key piece of evidence was    the  video of
Assaad’s Al Qaeda “oath.” Assaad was reportedly paid [64]
$85,000 for his work on the case; the other informant got $21,000.

James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, was hired to review the Liberty
City case as a consultant for the defense. In his opinion, the
informant  simply picked low-hanging fruit. “These guys couldn’t find
their way  down the end of the street,” Wedick says. “They were
homeless    types.  And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was
taking the    oath to Al  Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only
cared about  the   money. When  we put forth a case like that to suggest
to the  American   public that  we’re protecting them, we’re not
protecting  them. The   agents back in the  bullpen, they know it’s not
true.”

Indeed, the Department of Justice had a difficult time winning
convictions in the Liberty City case. In three separate trials, juries deadlocked
[65]     on most of the charges,
eventually acquitting one of the defendants     (charges against another
were dropped) and convicting five of crimes     that landed them in
prison for between 7 to 13 years. When it was all     over, Assaad told ABC News’ Brian Ross [57] that he had a special sense for
terrorists: “God gave me a certain gift.”

But he didn’t have a gift for sensing trouble. After the Liberty City
case, Assaad moved on to Texas and founded a low-rent modeling
agency
[66]. In March, when
police tried to pull him over, he led them in a chase
through El Paso
[67] (with his
female passenger jumping out at one  point),    hit a cop with his car,
and ended up rolling his SUV on the  freeway.    Reached by phone,
Assaad declined to comment. He’s saving  his story,  he   says, for a
book he’s pitching to publishers.

Not all of the more than 500 terrorism prosecutions [24]  reviewed in this     investigation
are so action-movie ready. But many  do have an element   of   mystery.
For example, though recorded  conversations are often a  key    element
of prosecutions, in many sting  cases the FBI didn’t  record  large
portions of the investigation,  particularly during  initial  encounters
or at key junctures during  the sting. When those   conversations
come up   in court, the FBI and  prosecutors will instead   rely on the
account of  an  informant with a  performance bonus on the   line.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was an 18-yeaer old wannabe rapper when an
FBI agent asked if he'd like to "help the brothers."
Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up
during a Christmas tree lighting.: Illustration: Jeffrey SmithMohamed
Osman Mohamud
[68] was an
18-year old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he’d like to “help
the brothers.” Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone
to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting.
Illustration:
Jeffrey SmithOne of the most egregious examples of a
missing recording involves a      convoluted tale that begins in the
early morning hours of November  1,     2009, with a date-rape
allegation on the campus of Oregon State      University. Following a
Halloween party, 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud [69],      a Somali-born US citizen, went
home with another student. The next      morning, the woman reported to
police that she believed she had been      drugged.

Campus police brought Mohamud in for questioning and a polygraph
test; FBI agents, who for reasons that have not been disclosed had been
keeping an eye on the teen for about a month, were
also there
[70]. Mohamud
claimed that the sex was consensual, and a drug test given to his
accuser eventually came back negative.

During the interrogation, OSU police asked Mohamud if a search of his
laptop would indicate that he’d researched date-rape drugs. He
said    it   wouldn’t and gave them permission to examine his hard
drive. Police copied      its entire contents and turned the data over
to the FBI—which      discovered, it later alleged in court documents,
that Mohamud had      emailed someone in northwest Pakistan talking
about jihad.

Soon after his run-in with police, Mohamud began to receive emails
from “Bill Smith,” a self-described terrorist who encouraged him      to
“help the brothers.” “Bill,” an FBI agent, arranged for Mohamud   to
meet one of his associates in a Portland hotel room. There,   Mohamud
told  the agents that he’d been thinking of jihad since age   15. When
asked  what he might want to attack, Mohamud suggested      the city’s Christmas tree
lighting ceremony
[71]. The
agents set Mohamud    up   with a van that he thought was filled with
explosives. On  November   26,   2010, Mohamud and one of the agents
drove the van to  Portland’s    Pioneer  Square, and Mohamud dialed [72]
the phone to trigger the explosion. Nothing. He dialed again.
Suddenly   FBI agents appeared and dragged him away as he kicked and
yelled, “Allahu akbar!” Prosecutors charged him with attempting
to use a weapon of mass destruction; his trial is pending.

The FBI’s defenders say the bureau must
flush out terrorist sympathizers before they act. “What would you do?”
asks one. “Wait for him to figure it out himself?”

The Portland case has been held up as an example of how FBI stings
can make a terrorist where there might have been only an angry loser.
“This is a kid who, it can be reasonably inferred, barely had the
capacity to put his shoes on in the morning,” Wedick says.

But Tidwell, the retired FBI official, says Mohamud was exactly the
kind of person the FBI needs to flush out. “That kid was pretty
specific   about what he wanted to do,” he says. “What would you do in
response?   Wait for him to figure it out himself? If you’ll notice,
most of these   folks [targeted in stings] plead guilty. They don’t
say,    ‘I’ve been   entrapped,’ or, ‘I was immature.'” That’s
true—though   it’s  also true   that defendants and their attorneys know
that the odds   of  succeeding at   trial are vanishingly small. Nearly
two-thirds of   all  terrorism   prosecutions since 9/11 have ended in
guilty pleas,  and   experts   hypothesize that it’s difficult for such
defendants to  get a   fair trial.   “The plots people are accused of
being part  of—attacking   subway  systems  or trying to bomb a
building—are so  frightening that   they can  overwhelm  a jury,” notes
David Cole, a  Georgetown University   law  professor who  has studied
these types of  cases.

But the Mohamud story wasn’t quite
over—it would end up changing the     course of another case on the
opposite side of the country. In    Maryland,  rookie FBI agent Keith
Bender had been working a sting    against  21-year-old Antonio
Martinez
[73], a recent convert
to Islam who’d posted inflammatory comments
on Facebook
[74]      (“The
sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease
inshallah”). An FBI informant had befriended Martinez and, in recorded
conversations, they talked about attacking a military recruiting
station.

Just as the sting was building to its climax, Martinez saw news
reports about the Mohamud case, and how there was an undercover
operative involved. He worried: Was he, too, being lured into a sting?
He called his supposed terrorist contact: “I’m not falling for no
BS,”     he told
him
[74].

Faced with the risk of losing the target, the informant—whose name is
not revealed in court records—met with Martinez and pulled him
back      into the plot. But while the informant had recorded numerous
previous     meetings with Martinez, no
recording
[75]      was made
for this key conversation; in affidavits, the FBI blamed a
technical glitch. Two weeks later, on December 8, 2010, Martinez
parked    what he thought was a car bomb in front of a recruitment
center and  was   arrested when he
tried to detonate
[76] it.

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to
President George W. Bush, concedes that missing recordings in terrorism
stings seem suspicious. But, she says, it’s more common than you
might    think: “I can’t tell you how many times I had FBI agents in
front of  me   and I yelled, ‘You have hundreds of hours of recordings,
but you   didn’t  record this meeting.’ Sometimes, I admit,
they might   not record  something intentionally”—for fear, she says,
that the target   will  notice. “But more often than not, it’s a
technical issue.”

Wedick, the former FBI agent, is less forgiving. “With the technology
the FBI now has access to—these small devices that no one would
ever     suspect are recorders or transmitters—there’s no excuse not to
tape     interactions between the informant and the target,” he says.
“So why  in    many of these terrorism stings are meetings not recorded?
Because  it’s    convenient for the FBI not to record.”

So what really happens
as an   informant works his target, sometimes     over a period
of years, and   eases him over the line? For the answer to     that,
consider once more   the case of James Cromitie [7],       the Walmart stocker with a
hatred of Jews. Cromitie was the     ringleader   in the much-publicized
Bronx synagogue bombing plot that     went to trial
last year
[77].       But a
closer look at the record reveals that while Cromitie was no       one’s
idea of a nice guy, whatever leadership existed in the plot
emanated from his sharply dressed, smooth-talking friend Maqsood,
a.k.a.     FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and
had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the
FBI’s     more successful counterterrorism informants. (See our timeline of Hussain’s career as an informant
[12].)    He’d originally come to
the bureau’s attention when he was   busted       in a DMV scam [78] that charged test takers $300 to $500
for a license.       Having “worked off” those charges, he’d
transitioned from  indentured      informant to paid snitch, earning as
much as $100,000  per  assignment.

At trial, informant Hussain admitted that
he created the “impression”  that his target would make big money by
bombing       synagogues in the Bronx.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would start conversations with strangers about jihad [79].       “I was finding people who
would be harmful, and radicals, and     identify   them for the FBI,”
Hussain said during Cromitie’s trial. Most     of the   mosque’s
congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a     wealthy
businessman and always arrived in one of his four luxury cars [80]—a
Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs—made plenty of friends.
But       after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he
had   not     identified a single actual
target
[81].

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the
parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain
clearly had Cromitie’s number. “Allah didn’t bring you here to work
for       Walmart,” he told
him
[82] at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could “con the corn from the cob,” had a
history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw
and    heard things that weren’t there and had twice tried to commit
suicide
[83].       He told
tall tales, most of them entirely untrue—like the one  about     how
his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from  Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four
months of their relationship isn’t known, because the FBI did
not record
[84]       those
conversations. Based on later conversations, it’s clear that
Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target, all
expenses paid
[85]       by the
FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam      Siraj
Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped   pay    Cromitie’s
rent
[86]. He offered to buy
him a barbershop
[87]. Finally, he asked Cromitie to
recruit
others
[88] and help him bomb
synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch
inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A hidden
camera
[89] was trained on the
living room.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Cromitie told
the informant
[90].

“Who? I—”

“Think about it before you speak,” Cromitie interrupted.

“If there is American soldiers, I don’t care,” Hussain said, trying a
fresh angle.

“Hold up,” Cromitie agreed. “If it’s American soldiers, I don’t even
care.”

“If it’s kids, I care,” Hussain said. “If it’s women, I care.”

“I care. That’s what I’m worried about. And I’m going to tell you, I
don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.”

“Yep.”

“I would take ’em down, I don’t even care. ‘Cause I know they are the
ones.”

“We have the equipment to do it.”

“See, see, I’m not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I’m worried
about is my safety,” Cromitie said.

“Oh, yeah, safety comes first.”

“I want to get in and I want to get out.”

“Trust me,” Hussain assured.

At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain would admit that he created the—in his
word—”impression” that Cromitie would make a lot of money by
bombing       synagogues.

“I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he once
told
[91]       Cromitie when
the target seemed hesitant. “What can I tell you?”      (Asked  about
the exchange in court, Hussain said that “$250,000” was      simply a
code word for the bombing plot—a code word, he admitted,   that    only
he  knew.)

But whether for ideology or money, Cromitie did recruit three others,
and they did take photographs of Stewart International Airport in
Newburgh as well as of synagogues in the Bronx. On May 20, 2009,
Hussain    drove Cromitie [92] to the Bronx, where Cromitie put what
he believed were bombs
[93]       inside cars he thought
had been parked by Hussain’s  coconspirators.      Once all the dummy
bombs were placed, Cromitie  headed back to the getaway
car
[94]—Hussain was in the
driver’s seat—and then a SWAT team surrounded the car.

At trial, Cromitie told
the judge
[95]:       “I am not
a violent person. I’ve never been a terrorist, and I   never     will
be. I got myself into this stupid mess. I know I said a   lot of
stupid stuff.” He was sentenced to 25 years.

For his trouble, the FBI paid Hussain $96,000 [96]. Then he moved on to another case,
another mosque, somewhere in the United States.

For this project, Mother Jones partnered with the
University of California-Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program
[97],    headed by Lowell Bergman, where Trevor
Aaronson
[98] was an
investigative    fellow. The Fund
for Investigative Journalism
[99]
also provided support for Aaronson’s reporting. Lauren Ellis [100] and Hamed Aleaziz [101] contributed additional research.

 


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http://motherjones.com/special-reports/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants

[2] http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants

[3]
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[12]
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[90]
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[91]
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[95]
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-29/new-york-city-synagogue-bomb-plotters-are-sentenced-to-25-years-in-prison.html

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https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/230985-8-25-10-fuller.html#document/p179/a30282

[97] http://journalism.berkeley.edu/program/investigative/

[98] http://motherjones.com/authors/trevor-aaronson

[99] http://fij.org/

[100] http://motherjones.com/authors/lauren-ellis

[101] http://motherjones.com/authors/hamed-aleaziz

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