This is a depressing view inside the FBI. It does not contradict any of the impressions I have already gleaned from ex-FBI agents I’ve talked to, and projects I’ve worked on where they have been involved. As usual, “not all FBI” – sure, there are some that are talented and not white supremacists – but those people (as the article shows) had to learn to work within a system that was incompetent and white supremacist.
Some of you have wondered out loud how I can simultaneously say the FBI is very powerful, and it’s incompetent. The article explains that: it’s got to do with the agenda they follow. They often go after the low-hanging fruit, like luring people into doing crimes so they can arrest them. The whole time, they are careful to avoid entrapment – but they walk a very thin line. As you may know, the defense against entrapment is difficult. First off, it’s an affirmative defense: “Yes, I planned to blow up that building, but the FBI guy talked me into it…” The judge turns their ears off as soon as the defendant says “Yes…” But the other subtlety about entrapment is that once you’re past the affirmative part, you then have to argue that they got you to do something you wouldn’t do, anyway. Let’s say you’ve got a past misdemeanor conviction for carrying a pair of nunchuks in New York City then they can argue that you have a past of dealing with illegal weapons and therefore asking you to sell them an illegal silencer for a pistol was not something you normally wouldn’t do. And, of course, in counter-terrorism the attitude is, basically, “Muslims blow stuff up, therefore it’s not entrapping a muslim into a bomb plot.”
Anyhow, the article is worth a read in its fullness: [NYT] It’s also pretty chilling regarding the handling of whistle-blowers in law enforcement, but that should be no surprise.
The former C.I.A. official Philip Mudd later wrote that while much of the material in the threat matrix was “trash,” the people who read it saw it very differently. By the end of September 2001, Mueller told President Bush that Al Qaeda had 331 potential “sleeper” operatives inside the United States. By the following October, intelligence officials were estimating that anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 Al Qaeda terrorists might be hiding within various Muslim communities across the United States. Virtually all of these supposed terrorists turned out to be nonentities – “ghost leads,” as they were called.
I remember quite well when the FBI started talking about “terrorist cells” and even a moment’s thought will convince any rational person that there aren’t any. Why? Because, if there were, they would be the most remarkably ineffective terrorists, ever. I also remember the desperate attempt to tie “DC Sniper” John Allen Mohammed to radical islamic groups, except he appears to be a home-grown version of US crazy, like so many other american mass shooters. The idea of “sleeper cells” is farcical and I originally thought it was just an excuse for the FBI to go wild, investigating mosques and people with easily obtainable warrants. Of course I was being an optimist: what warrants?
The U.S. response to terrorism would eventually take on the contours of a major domestic surveillance operation. It was a radical shift from the F.B.I.’s historical investigative blueprint, and the impact was immediate. “What Mueller did, with the support of President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft, was leverage the fear of another Al Qaeda attack to transform the bureau from a law-enforcement agency into a domestic intelligence agency,” says Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent and author of “Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide,” a 2019 critical analysis of the post-9/11 F.B.I. This new mandate exposed a vast number of people who were not suspected of breaking the law to some of the same intrusive techniques the bureau had long used against people it suspected were criminals. “All of this was done without a clear public discussion of what this development might mean for American freedom and democracy or whether it would actually result in greater security,” he says. “As it turned out, spying on innocent people doesn’t help catch guilty people, so it was a flawed approach.”
Bingo. The problem with the FBI’s approach of creating marginal terrorists is that you only catch stupid people. If there were actual “sleeper cells” in the US, they’d be working for the FBI and CIA. That’s how the Soviets mooted the CIA and FBI during the cold war, and it worked pretty well and was very cost-effective.
‘It was made very clear from Day 1 that the enemy was not just a tiny group of disaffected Muslims. Islam itself was the enemy.’
It was ridiculous that president Bush was allowed (by the media) to talk about a “crusade” against terrorism, and then walk it back unopposed. “Oh, I mis-spoke, it was the heat of the moment.” No, Bush is a fundamentalist christian, like most of the senior people in the FBI and military, and they correctly heard it as calling for oppressing muslims. A policy Trump and his deranged racist sidekicks put into high gear.
Read the whole article. It’ll give you acid indegestion [NYT] and perhaps a better understanding of how anyone who has come into intimate contact with the FBI winds up holding it in a mixture of fear and contempt. Ultimately, they’re just cops and all cops really are bastards.