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The FBI’s Informant Network
Tom Junod has a feature about the so-called Waffle House terrorists in February’s Esquire. According to news reports around the time this was news, the Waffle House terrorists were four senior citizens plotting a killing spree against government officials. It wasn’t clear at the time how advanced these plans were, but they were busted by an FBI informant, apparently present and wired from the group’s very first meeting.
Junod’s feature paints a more complete picture of the group and their informant. Overall, he makes a fairly unconvincing case for their innocence — it seems to boil down to “these men are way too old, no way.” But more interesting is the informant, Joe Sims. In 2010 he was charged with a string of sexual offenses, including molestation of minors, dissemination of child pornography, and incest. He signed on as an informant to keep himself out of jail, conveniently having information about a terrorist plot. However, as Junod tells it, the plot Sims supposedly had information on would never have progressed past kitchen table shit-talk without assistance from Sims, who provided money and weapons. The men involved were too self-incriminating for a credible entrapment argument, but the fact remains that their plan was likely going nowhere without Sims’, and by extension, the FBI’s help.
This narrative, of the FBI luring wannabe terrorists into terror plots, has been increasingly common in the FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s post-9/11 push for uncovering and stopping terrorists before they have a chance to become terrorists, and the Waffle House terrorists are only the most recent high-profile story to make print.
There was the Liberty City Seven, accused of plotting to blow up the Sears’ Tower in Chicago and liberate Muslims from a nearby jail. An FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda associate supplied the men with surveillance equipment, cellphones, a meeting place, and money. Documents later showed the seven men were nowhere near being capable of executing a terrorist plot, and the informant was paid $10,500 for his services in incriminating them.
There was also the Newburgh Four, painted as anti-American terrorists plotting to fire Stinger missiles at planes and plant car bombs. Shahed Hussain, an FBI informant, organised all of this. He got them the missiles, did the reconnaissance missions, taught them about Islam, and offered the men $250,000, free holidays, and expensive cars as incentive. The truth, it later came out, was that the four men involved struggled with drug addiction and poverty, one had severe mental issues, and the supposed ringleader later claimed he was just trying to scam Hussain for money.
Most recently was the case of Jose Pimentel. As in most of these cases, there’s little doubt that he wanted to kill Americans, but without the aid of an NYPD informant he would have been too poor and mentally unstable to build the pipe bombs he was arrested for building. In what could be seen as a turning of the tide in these kinds of investigations, the FBI declined to pursue it, saying it raised questions of entrapment. Though that didn’t stop the NYPD continuing with their case, and they actually called it a tactical advantage, since they could charge Pimentel with conspiracy, which is something FBI wouldn’t have been able to.
Over the course of a year Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley examined the prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases. They found that every single high-profile domestic terror plot in the last decade, with only three exceptions, was an FBI sting. Nearly half of all prosecutions involved informants, and 49 defendants were prosecuted for their involvement in plots lead by an FBI informant. Despite the obvious question of entrapment in so many of these cases, terrorism-related charges are so hard to beat that few of the defendants risked a trial.
- Junod’s piece mentions that the men planned to manufacture a poison called Ricin, but fails to mention — as most media publications that mention Ricin do — that the recipe easily found online was written by a teenager and will not work; it’s an urban legend that will probably never die
- He’s No Angel — the FBI informant who invented a murder plot against a federal prosecutor to scam the FBI for money
- Homegrown Terror — the story of one of the three legitimate terror investigations in the last decade, that almost resulted in Najibullah Zazi bombing the New York subway system
- The Triple Agent — Humam al-Balawi posed as a CIA informant in an elaborate plot that eventually lead to the death of 9 intelligence operatives