By Petra Bartosiewicz | TheNation.com | June 13, 2012 | [Original Article]
According to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, there have been 138 terrorism or national security prosecutions involving informants since 2001, and more than a third of those have occurred in the past three years. Nearly every major post-9/11 terrorism-related prosecution has involved a sting operation, at the center of which is a government informant. In these cases, the informants—who work for money or are seeking leniency on criminal charges of their own—have crossed the line from merely observing potential criminal behavior to encouraging and assisting people to participate in plots that are largely scripted by the FBI itself. Under the FBI’s guiding hand, the informants provide the weapons, suggest the targets and even initiate the inflammatory political rhetoric that later elevates the charges to the level of terrorism….
After the men were convicted at trial, the judge in the case, Colleen McMahon, said it was “beyond question that the government created the crime here” and criticized the FBI for sending informants “trolling among the citizens of a troubled community, offering very poor people money if they will play some role—any role—in criminal activity.” The men were sentenced to twenty-five years in prison….
These informants operate in a post-9/11 environment of relaxed guidelines that allow the FBI to engage in lengthy and extensive surveillance of individuals and communities with little or no evidence of any wrongdoing afoot. Where once agents needed to have a “predicate” to launch such an investigation, these days none are required…
Though relatively few informant-driven investigations have led to the discovery of actual “homegrown” plots, the Muslim community for years has reported instances of people being approached by informants trying to enlist them in violent jihad. At times the informants have been so aggressive they have quickly raised suspicions. At a California mosque in 2010 one FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, advocated violent jihad so vehemently that the mosque’s members sought and received a restraining order against him. Monteilh, a former fitness instructor paid $177,000 over the course of his service with the FBI, participated in what the bureau dubbed Operation Flex, in which he was assigned to monitor gyms and mosques across Orange County, California, home to the country’s second-largest Muslim population. “We started hearing that he was saying weird things,” college student Omar Kurdi later told a reporter. “He would walk up to one of my friends and say, ‘It’s good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad.’”
… He also gave a statement in support of a suit filed against the bureau by the ACLU that named the then head of the Los Angeles office, J. Stephen Tidwell, who had made a point of visiting a mosque in Irvine in June 2006 and telling the congregants that the FBI would not spy on them. “If we’re going to mosques to come to services, we will tell you,” he said. “We don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.” The next month, agents under Tidwell deployed Monteilh to the very same mosque….
According to Monteilh, his handlers in Operation Flex instructed him to identify potential militants or, failing that, to “pay attention to people’s problems”—such as marital or business difficulties—and assess whether individuals might be susceptible to rumors about their sexual orientation “so that they could be persuaded to become informants.” His handlers also told him that “everybody knows somebody,” meaning that people from Afghanistan, for example, would inevitably have family members or acquaintances with ties to the Taliban—information the FBI could use to “threaten…and pressure them to provide information, or could justify additional surveillance.” Monteilh said the agents also gave him the green light to have sex with Muslim women for investigative purposes. “They said if it would enhance the intelligence, go ahead and have sex,” he told a reporter. “So I did.” When Monteilh asked his handler, agent Kevin Armstrong, about the FBI’s broad latitude in conducting the investigation, he said Armstrong told him that on national security matters, “Kevin is God.”
In 2005 the FBI’s Office of the Inspector General found “serious shortcomings” in the bureau’s Criminal Informant Program. The report, which examined some 120 cases, including those related to terrorism, found that 87 percent of the investigations involving informants contained violations of the FBI’s own guidelines. Among the chief violations were the failure of agents to caution informants about the “limits of their activities,” the “failure to report unauthorized illegal activity” by their informants, and the issuance of “retroactive approvals” for illegal acts the informants had already committed. The report noted that since 2001 the rules had been loosened at the FBI’s request to reflect the new emphasis on intelligence gathering, and by extension the bureau’s dire need for informants. In testimony before Congress in May 2002, FBI Director Mueller argued that requiring agents to read “verbatim instructions” to their informants, “written in often intimidating legalese, [was] proving to have a chilling effect, causing confidential informants to leave the program.”
… “The FBI approaches the vast majority of our clients as potential informants to partake in mass surveillance of Muslim communities, unconnected to any real criminal investigation,” said Amna Akbar, a supervising attorney at CLEAR. “The bureau is aggressively attempting to cultivate informants in Muslim communities by using coercion, pressure tactics and intimidation.”