Review and Excerpts: The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

               The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism is a controversial book. The author, who is a journalist, Trevor Aaronson, raises important questions about the underlying philosophy of the war on terror inside the United States. I read this book after I was done reading The Black Banners by former FBI agent Ali Soufan. Ali Soufan wrote a book that is critical of the CIA interrogation methods. The argument of Mr. Soufan is that traditional interrogation techniques are effective in getting information while so- called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT), torture, are not effective at getting cooperation and information from suspects no matter how bad of human beings the suspects are. The issue of the use of EIT is coming up again with the congressional report questioning the usefulness of EITs and concluding that they do not work- that is restating the point made by Ali Soufan in Black Banners.

            While The Black Banners is more than five hundred pages, the Terror Factory is only 240 pages. The Wall Street Journal had Ali Soufan write a review of the Terror Factory. Reading Soufan’s voluminous book indicates that his expertise with the agency is with its investigations overseas. Only a small part of the book and a small part of his career is working sting operations in the United States.

            The argument of Aaronson is that the FBI has been given a lot of money by the Congress to make the country safe from terror attacks. Finding no actual plots, Aaronson argues, the FBI manufactures its own plots using marginal characters, having informants supply the sting target with the ideas and the resources to attempt a terror attack that they would not have been able to pull had it not been for the prodding and the assistance of the FBI informants. Ali Soufan counters Aaronson by saying that the objects of the sting operation were seeking to work with overseas terrorists and the FBI reached them before they could be recruited by overseas terrorists. This is preemption- by conducting the sting operation- the lone wolves are not online anymore trying to meet real terrorists that would turn them operational instead of merely aspirational terrorists. Another point that the FBI makes is that by having these sting operations those who are out trying to meet terrorist recruiters would have the real doubts that the person they are talking to might be an FBI informant. These two goals, to the FBI, justify the use of sting operations. Aronson interviewed current and former FBI agents. Not all were in agreement that these sting operations are the way to go in conducting a war on terror. Below are some excerpts from the book with the page numbers:



  For more than a decade, the FBI has thrown as much as it can toward an effort to stop the “next” terrorist attack. Every year, the US government allocates $3 billion to the FBI to prevent the next 9/11, more money than the Bureau receives to combat organized crime. But what an analysis of ten years’ worth of Justice Department data shows is that Islamic terrorism in the United States is not an immediate and dangerous threat. The FBI’s thousands of informants and billions of dollars have not resulted in the capture of dozens of killers ready and able to bomb a crowded building or gun down people in a suburban shopping mall Instead, the FBI’s trawling in Muslim communities has resulted largely in sting operations that target easily susceptible men on the margins of society, men like Michael Curtis Reynolds. Since 9/11, the FBI and the Justice Department have labeled as terrorists a mentally troubled man who worked at Walmart, a video game store clerk whose only valuable possession was a set of stereo speakers, a university student who was about to be evicted from his apartment, and a window washer who had dropped out of college, among others. All of these men were involved in FBI terrorism stings in which an informant came up with the idea and provided the necessary means and opportunity for the terrorist plot. While we have captures a few terrorists since 9/11, we have manufactured many more. 17


Based on Facebook postings alone, an FBI agent gave an informant the “green light” to get to know Martinez and determine if he had a propensity for violence. In other words, to see if he was dangerous. 20


The FBI’s vast army of spies, located in every community in the United States with enough Muslims to support a mosque, has one primary function: to identify the next lone wolf. According to the bureau, a lone wolf is likely to be a single male age sixteen to thirty-five. Therefore, informants and their FBI handlers are on the lookout for young Muslims who espouse radical beliefs, are vocal about their disapproval of US foreign policy, or have espoused sympathy for international terrorist groups. If they find anyone who meets the criteria, they move him to the next stage: the sting, in which an FBI informant, posing as a terrorist, offers to help facilitate a terrorist attack for the target. 27


 The FBI’s logic to support the use of terrorism stings goes something like this: By catching a long before he strikes, federal law enforcement can take him off the streets before he meets a real terrorist who can provide him with weapons and munitions. However, to this day, no example exists of a lone wolf, by himself unable to launch an attack, becoming operational through meeting an actual terrorist in the United States. In addition, in the dozens of terrorism sting operations since 9/11, the would-be terrorists are usually uneducated, unsophisticated, and economically desperate- not the attributes of someone likely to plan and launch a sophisticated, violent attack without significant help. 30


While the three were dangerous lone wolves, none fit the profile of would-be terrorists targeted today in FBI terrorism sting operations. Unlike those caught in FBI stings, these three terrorists had international connections and the ability to carry out attacks on their own, however unsuccessful those attacks might have been for Zasi and Shahzad. 31


DIOG- Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide- open quick investigations called “threat assessments” without probable cause- can consider religious affiliation…48 hours to investigate other attendees.

“We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to be an operator, and we want to catch them when they step over the line to operate.” Arthur Cummings, co-author of DIOG.


The FBI tries to identify those who might take this step by scrutinizing Muslims who are espousing radical beliefs, expressing hatred of the United States or its foreign policy, or associating with others who are doing one of those two things. 44


The FBI’s use of informants today is unprecedented. In addition to the roster of 15,000 informants that the bureau maintains- many of them tasked with infiltrating of Muslim communities in the United States- for every informant officially listed, there are as many as three unofficial ones, known in FBI parlance as “hip pockets.” Informants can be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. 44


Using Delta, FBI agents who need an informant can search the database and find candidates- just as a corporate recruiter might use Linked In while searching for software engineers to hire. 45


… while decades of data suggests that someone interested in obtaining drugs will be able to buy drugs even if not caught in a government sting, no data supports the assumption that a would-be terrorist would find the means to commit a terrorist act if not preempted by an FBI sting. To date, there has not been a single would-be terrorist in the United States who has become operational through a chance meeting with someone able to provide the means for a terrorist attack. In addition, no evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives are within the United States today, willing and able to produce weapons to terrorist wannabes. In truth, the only people providing these means are undercover FBI agents and their informants, who help create the terrorists the Bureau is given more than $ 3 billion every year to catch. 206-7.


Retired FBI veteran Myron fuller believes that none of the pre-9/11 intelligence suggested that Muslims in the United States were supporting terrorists overseas, but that the Bureau chose to assume that their information was incorrect in the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks… Fuller retired from the Bureau just before 9/11 and now lives in Honolulu, where he’s watched with a critical eye the evolution of the FBI’s counterterrorism program. He said that the billions of dollars allocated to terrorism have forced the FBI to assume that a danger exists in communities where intelligence indicates no threat is present, and sting cases are simply the Bureau’s way of justifying how it’s spending all the money it receives for counterterrorism. Fuller is certainly in a position to know about this, since one of his responsibilities for the FBI in Asia was researching links between US Muslim communities and international terrorist organizations. “We've been observing Muslim communities in the United States for thirty, forty years," Fuller told me when I talked to him a few months before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. "Until the '90s nothing developed from those operations that caused people to say we've got a threat here." Then came the first World Trade Center bombing of 1993. "Thereafter, we were taking a little bit stronger look at Muslim communities. Yet no one came out of that harder look. No match or link or whatsoever from observing the people who lived in Dearborn, Michigan. Nothing ever came out of Dearborn, Michigan, or anywhere else that was remotely connected to the people who did what they did in 1993, or any of the other attacks up to and including 9/11." Fuller added: "It's always been my argument that Muslim communities in the United States haven't been supporting terror or sheltering terrorists in any significant way. The response to 9/11 was to use a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat. People suddenly thought that if you're a Muslim, you're either a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer."' 210-11




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