Having offered a very qualified defense of the FBI's use of informants in some terrorism cases last week, this story from The Washington Post, about an FBI informant named Craig Monteilh who was simply ordered to infiltrate a California mosque without an actual target, reads more like one of James O'Keefe's video schemes than a terrorism investigation:
In May 2007, Monteilh said he recorded a conversation about jihad during a car ride with Niazi and another man. Monteilh said he suggested an operation to blow up buildings and Niazi agreed. An FBI agent later cited that and other taped conversations between the two in court as evidence that Niazi was a threat.So this guy thinks he's in a car with a terrorist -- and he does the rational thing, which is pretend he's on the same page, because after all, the guy is a terrorist and might kill him -- and the FBI's response is to use this as evidence that he's willing to kill innocent people. Mentioning O'Keefe isn't a diss -- the parallels are striking -- ACORN workers filed police complaints after supposedly "playing along" on some of the videos. Niazi did what, ideally, the FBI would have wanted him to do -- and they tried to nail him anyway. Given that the government acknowledges a toxic relationship between the American Muslim community and law enforcement would be a disaster for terrorism investigations, one wonders why the FBI was busy trying to make a case against the kind of person who will drop a dime on someone they believed was a terrorist. Prosecutors ultimately dismissed the case, but it's extraordinary that it even got as far as a courtroom.
A few days later, Ayloush got an anguished phone call from Niazi and the other man in the car.
"They said Farouk had told them he had access to weapons and that they should blow up a mall,'' Ayloush recalled. "They were convinced this man was a terrorist."
Ayloush reported the FBI's own informant to the FBI. He said agents interviewed Niazi, who gave them the same account, but the agency took no action against Monteilh.
This strikes me as a pretty clear indication of a systemic problem. According to Montieilh, "He was instructed to infiltrate mosques throughout Orange and two neighboring counties in Southern California, where the Muslim population of nearly 500,000 is the nation's largest." If that sounds like racial profiling, it is -- but the FBI's operations guide basically allows investigations into "concentrated ethnic communities" if "these locations will reasonably aid the analysis of potential threats and vulnerabilities, and, overall, assist domain awareness for the purpose of performing intelligence analysis." That's basically a license to start snooping around on people for almost any reason. This case occurred years before the Obama administration took office, but Attorney General Eric Holder kept the expanded guidelines put in place by the last administration -- it's probably time to revisit them.