Film review: The Newburgh Sting (2014)

This is an absolutely riveting, must-see HBO documentary directed and edited by Kate David and David Heilbroner about four men accused in 2009 of plotting to carry out a terrorist plot. We all know that the US government uses money and other lures to coax young minor criminals who have no prospects and little sense into signing on to hare-brained schemes of violence so that the government can then triumphantly unmask the plot. They also carefully manufacture a link with a mosque in order to exploit the fears and anti-Muslim sentiment of the US public.

This happens over and over again and this film takes you through the details (using secretly recorded government surveillance footage) of one such entrapment plot in the 2009 case of four men from the deeply impoverished town of Newburgh, New York who, under the urging of an FBI informant who himself had a shady past, were promised $250,000 each plus cars and travel to attack a US military plane and plant bombs near a Jewish temple in New York. This sum of money was unbelievably high to small-town hustlers who were so incompetent that they could never have been able to carry it out on their own, leaving aside the fact that they had never expressed any interest in doing so and had to be coaxed by the FBI informant.

Once you see this film, you will never again (if you ever did) take at face value anything that the government or the media or members of Congress tell you about terrorist plots. As the mother of one of the men says, you realize “how devious the government is” and as another young man who had been in one of the Newburgh street gangs says, “There ain’t no gang like the government” in its sheer viciousness and willingness to sacrifice people in pursuing its agenda.

The extent to which the government will go is seen by the fact that they deliberately arranged that the men would have to pick up bomb materials and missiles in Connecticut. Why Connecticut? Because transporting weapons across state lines is what makes it a federal offense. They also included a stinger missile in the plot even though none of the men knew how to operate it or exactly what they were supposed to do with it. The reason is that the inclusion of the missile immediately raised the minimum sentence they would get to 25 years, plus bringing it into court would scare the hell out of the judge and jury and make them more likely to convict.

As former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes says in the film, these government plots do not get manufactured by low-level FBI agents. They are cleared at the highest levels, by the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General, and the president. Why does the government go to all this trouble to frame ordinary people who had never considered doing such things at all? Because they want the public to be in a state of constant fear, and the spectacular, carefully orchestrated media events that they stage at the unveiling of the allegedly dangerous plots enables them to bask in the credit of foiling them while also hyping up that fear. As Fuentes says:

If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that ‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.

Here’s the full film. It lasts just 80 minutes. Watch it if you have the time. It is well worth it.


  1. says

    The FBI can’t actually catch anyone really dangerous, and the ones they can catch (like Wall St fat cats) are above the law. So they have to create conspiracies among the underclass and preferred enemy, then catch them.

  2. says

    I’m watching it now. Had to pause it to comment on one recording in a car where Cromitie’s talking about how they’re unemployed and really need the money and Hussain the undercover agent starts saying basically “If they’re doing it for the money [or “greedness”], they should not. This is Jihad. This is Jihad.” And Cromitie, without a moment’s pause, answers “But you know what they’re thinking? They can use the money, though.”

  3. Mano Singham says

    Yes, that part was telling. These guys wouldn’t know jihad if it bit them in the rear. They were four clueless, poor street toughs who thought they could make some easy money. As that woman said in the film, 25 years in prison was an abomination, they should have been given just five years for stupidity.

  4. carbonfox says

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this set-up! Thanks for the review. I’ll definitely give the film a watch.

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