Privacy SOS

Keeping the national security industrial complex afloat: the great terrorism boondoggle

Today, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched its report about the spying on lawful protest activity by the Boston Police and the agents attached to its fusion center, one of those domestic surveillance hubs set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to share “terrorism-related” information.

The “intelligence reports” we obtained through a court order support the findings of the US Senate subcommittee that investigated fusion centers: they have produced “nothing of value,” have uncovered no terrorism plots, and their output often is – in the words of one official – “a bunch of crap.”

A similar term can be applied to most of the so-called terrorism plots that keep the national security surveillance complex in business.

Take today’s news about the arrest of a 21-year-old Bangladeshi student, Qazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who allegedly recruited an undercover FBI agent and an undercover informant to help bomb the federal reserve bank in Manhattan.

It is by now a familiar story, but with an unfamiliar twist.

In the words of The New York Times, “The plot is the latest to fit a model in which, in the process of flushing out people they believe present a risk of terrorism, federal law enforcement officials have played the role of enabler. Agents and informers have provided suspects with encouragement, guidance, money and even, the subjects of the sting operations are led to believe, the materials needed to carry out an attack.”

Here’s the twist: the FBI and NYPD put aside bitter turf rivalry and worked together on this “elaborate sting operation.”

If there aren’t enough “terrorists” to go around, they can, it seems, put aside their differences and cooperate to summon up more wannabes.

So how many “terrorist plots” have relied on the creative input of undercover agents and informers?

The New America Foundation and Syracuse University’s Maxwell School have put together a revealing report on “The Homegrown Threat.” It looks at 192 post 9/11 cases of Americans or US residents who have been charged with or convicted of some form of “jihadist activity” directed at the US. Included are individuals who traveled abroad allegedly to join a terrorist group.

In 36% of the cases, informants helped plan sting operations. In 11% of the cases, FBI agents or local undercover police played an active role in the plot. According to the report, in seven cases both undercover agents/officers and paid informants egged on their target to attempt to commit a terrorist act.

That should now be (at least) eight cases, since an undercover agent and an FBI special agent working with the JTTF were plotters helping Mr. Nafis every step of the way.

According to these findings, then, about half of these “terrorist plots” might never have seen the light of day without a little (or considerable) help from the government.

And guess what? With all the attention paid to the terrorist threat posed by Muslim extremists, it turns out that “right-wing extremists” are responsible for more post 9/11 deaths in terrorist attacks and considerably more equipped to carry out mass carnage.

The New American/Syracuse University scorecard reads 18 to 17 – with 13 of those 17 caused by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan when he opened fire at Ft. Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009.

Here’s what the report has to say about these attacks:

“Islamist terrorism has been no more deadly in the United States than other forms of domestic terrorism since September 11. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, one of the fears of ordinary citizens and terrorism experts alike was that a new wave of terrorists would strike, some of them armed with chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear materials. Ten years later, we have yet to see an Islamist terrorist incident involving such weapons in the United States, and no Islamist militant in this country has made a documented attempt to even acquire such devices. Yet this is not the case for other terrorists.”

In response to the question, “How real is the ‘homegrown’ Islamist terrorist threat?” the report points out while 17 deaths have been caused by “jihadist” attacks in the US, 73 people were killed in hate crimes during the years 2001 and 2009, and some 15,000 murders are committed in the United States every year.

This is not the only recent study to do a reality check on the “homegrown” threat represented by Muslim extremists. John Mueller from Ohio University has involved his students in researching specific cases and the motivations behind them: “It’s the foreign policy, stupid.”

The individual cases are laid out in compelling detail in the June 2012 publication, Terrorism Since 9/11: The American Cases. In his introduction, Prof. Mueller exposes the many foibles of the Department of Homeland Security and asks:

“A great many Americans profess that they worry about becoming a victim of terrorism when the likelihood is almost vanishingly small, or that authorities have almost never relayed that prosaic fact to the public. Or that no one ever answers the perennial query, ‘Are we safer?’ with: ‘At present rates, your yearly chance of being killed by a terrorist is one in 3.5 million; how much safer do you want to be and how much money do you want to spend to achieve that level of safety?’”

He goes on:

“Perhaps the ultimate black (or in this case red) joke, however, is the one played on the taxpayers. Since 9/11, expenditures on domestic homeland security have expanded by a total of over $1 trillion even though a reasonable assessment of the cases and of the capacities of the small number of would-be terrorists detailed in this book would suggest that the problem or threat presented by domestic terrorism scarcely justifies such great alarm and such massive expenditure. Indeed, one study applies standard risk and cost-benefit analysis to the issue and concludes that the enhanced expenditures can only be justified if they can be held to have deterred, prevented, foiled, or protected against four otherwise successful attacks roughly like the one attempted at Times-Square in 2010 (Case 34) per day.

“Compounding this absurdity, is the fact that, according to a careful assessment by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, these funds have been expended without any serious analysis of the sort routinely required in other areas of the government. The committee could not find ‘any DHS risk analysis capabilities and methods’ adequate for supporting the decisions made, noted that ‘little effective attention’ was paid to issues that are ‘fundamental,’ was (with one exception) never shown ‘any document’ that could explain ‘exactly how the risk analyses are conducted,’ and looked over reports in which it was not clear ‘what problem is being addressed.’

“As part of this, a sort of bitter comedy is present when the authorities, joined by legions of terrorism experts, continually proclaim there to be thousands of terrorists afoot and predict imminent disaster, but are never countered when they make their proclamations or held to account later when these prove to have been so much hot air.”

Are we taxpayers suckers, or what?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.