Schneier on Security
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September 6, 2010
Back in 2007, I wrote an essay, "Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot," where I said:
The JFK Airport plotters seem to have been egged on by an informant, a twice-convicted drug dealer. An FBI informant almost certainly pushed the Fort Dix plotters to do things they wouldn't have ordinarily done. The Miami gang's Sears Tower plot was suggested by an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the group. And in 2003, it took an elaborate sting operation involving three countries to arrest an arms dealer for selling a surface-to-air missile to an ostensible Muslim extremist. Entrapment is a very real possibility in all of these cases.
Over on Salon, Stephan Salisbury has an essay on FBI entrapment and domestic terrorism plots. It's well worth reading.
Posted on September 6, 2010 at 7:24 AM
• 46 Comments
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Yes entrapment is a very real possability.
The problem is an infiltration agent has to "bring something to the party" as an entrance fee.
Thus there is a very ambiguous line that I suspect has long been crossed by LEA's as a mater of routien simply because judges are not pulling them up on it and dismissing cases as they should do.
There is way to much "justice being seen to be done" and no where near enough "justice being done", the result is few who look sufficiently around them feel confident in the justice system.
This is not just in the US but other WASP nations as well.
We'd like you with your special insight into this atlanta thing to help us with a training video about placing a backpack bomb.
Richard Jewel, you're such a patriot we just know you will act for use with out thought of compensation for your help.
This reminds me of the plot of an episode from "Get Smart:" CONTROL decides to send Agent 86 to infiltrate KAOS, so he can discover the identity of the Triunvirate that governed the terrorist organization. When he finally does, it turns out that all three of the members of the Triunvirate were moles: one FBI, one CIA and one Secret Service.
The FBI has done this sort of thing since its inception. Hoover appears to be running the place from the grave.
Jihad is the duty of all muslims.
Any non-muslim culture that wants to survive, knows what must be done to stop the jihad: Accept that Islam is at war with us, and then respond with war.
Misguided half-assed FBI and coppers only screw up our liberties, while having no effect on the war.
We didn't choose the war, but it is being waged against us. Now that we're in it - Let's win it. And then return to 'normal'.
Back in the Cold War days, someone pointed out that there were so many FBI moles in the US Communist party that its most logical candidate for President would be Hoover.
Hey sofa--troll much? Or are you actually a racist bigot?
Taking the devil's advocate...
OK, perhaps the agents pushed them, but so what? If you pushed me to blow up the Sears Tower, I'd think that was a bad idea. If you push someone to blow up the Sears Tower and they take you seriously and start plotting, then you are finding out that something is clearly wrong there.
so one is guilty because one might do something, rather than actually doing it ?
How about I ogle at your young daughter, and make suggestive remarks, etc, till you hit me ? I'll just have proved you're a criminal. Why shouldn't we arrest you forthwith and lock you up ? After all, thanks to me, we've uncovered someone who was ready to assault others.
One of the greatest frustrations of those who work behind the scenes (and no, I'm not one) is that when they stop a Real Terrorist Plot, they can't possibly trumpet their successes. Protecting sources and methods is important, especially when your sources are few and your methods weak.
Thus the FBI continues to serve a valuable purpose by recruiting and defusing proto-plots, allowing the American public to rest assured that something is being done. One might even consider it a race between the FBI informants and actual terrorist recruiters.
What's a poor radical jihadist (or environmental terrorist, or right wing fringe nutjob) to do? Build bombs that don't work from shaky manuals off the Internet, or ally with others to suddenly discover that everyone but him is actually a government informant?
For an alternative view with some merit, I encourage looking at this article from America's finest news source.
Oh, and sofa -- your ignorance of Islam is rivaled only by your naiveté. Show me a culture that declared war on anything and went back to 'normal' afterwards.
I'm very comfortable with Muslims coming to America and trying to spread their culture; their sons will watch Baywatch and their daughters will shop at the mall, and their grandchildren will 'forget that Arabic word' while watching football and eating fried chicken on Labor Day.
As much as I dislike unscientific laws turning people into criminals, and government agents pushing people to break laws of any kind, I think a real distinction must be made here regarding what is "entrapment".
If you've banded together an organization for the expressed intention of doing bad things, I don't think it much matters where the *idea* for a particular bad thing comes from. I mean, if a crook foolishly walks up to the undercover cop doing surveillance on a bait car and asks the cop to suggest which car to steal (or even just break into), I don't think it should be a sticky issue for the cop to direct the crook to the bait car.
Likewise, if terrorists are looking to attack a location, it isn't self-evident that a mole suggesting a controlled/known target is entrapment. What if the mole instead just casually left a newspaper lying around open to a story about the target? What if the government agency supplying the mole also planted the story itself in the newspaper? There is just too much wiggle room for unreasonable "reasonable doubt" to do anything but say that the root action is *not* entrapment.
@ Impossibly Stupid,
"If you've banded together an organization for the expressed intention of doing bad things, I don' think it much matters where the *idea* for a particular bad thing comes from."
You are working under two assumptions,
First there is an "organisation", the second "it exists to do bad things".
It has been sugested on several occasions by reputable sources that al-Qaeda was an invention of the US government in order to prosecute and find guilty Osama bin Laden in his absence of conspiracy charges.
Thus it can be said that there does not need to be an organisation the prosecutor only has to say there is...
Secondly as the UK's CND found, agents from the UK Government frequently tried to get the organisation or some part of it to talk about "doing bad things". The reason they failed is that CND only held public meetings and all discussions where recorded as minutes and anybody suggesting such ideas was always told it was against CND's charter and if they persisted they where asked to leave the public meeting.
Thus it is quite within the realms of possability for an agent to invent an organisation where one does not exist (or exists for other purposes), and to push the direction of an organisation in a direction it would not have gone without the agent(s) pushing.
It is in these areas where an agent is coercing one or more people to behave in a maner they would not have otherwise done, where what the agent is doing becomes very very questionable.
It boils down to who is the "directing mind" if it is the agent then it is entrapment.
Many of these "suspects" do not have the ability to be the "directing mind" of themselves let alone an organisation.
Ask yourself who is guilty when sheep stray onto a road and cause an accident. The sheep or the humans that one way or another alowed the sheep to stray or alowed the accident to happen?
Luring wannabes into 'terrorist plots' is not providing a useful service. The effort wastes resources and creates the illusion that 'something is being done'.
Only crooks lie to the people they serve.
This is no surprise. The FBI's job is to arrest and get convictions, just like most cops. If they have to "fake it until they make it", that's exactly what they will do.
Anyone who's been in Federal prison like moi knows that half the people there have either been entrapped or ratted out by their relatives who were entrapped. There's a reason the DoJ has something like a 98% conviction rate. When you're threatened with 25 to life unless you rat out your brother, you tend to value family ties somewhat less, at least in some quarters where family solidarity has never been that big, i.e., the ghetto, the barrio, and rural America.
People need to realize that law enforcement in this country has NEVER been about nice, clean-cut "Adam 12" cops and Efrem Zimbalist as the FBI. It's about dirty New York and LA cops, and an FBI which WILL manufacture evidence if necessary to get a conviction. It's about "us vs them" - and we are the "them" to a cop or a Federal agent.
There's also a reason why Abu Ghraib existed - it was created and staffed by US prison industry personnel. The Iraqi prison system today which also tortures was set up by US prison officials from states with historically bad examples of corrupt prison practices.
No, it's not a case of a "few bad apples" - the barrel is rotten to the bottom. Abuses will continue until the system is redesigned.
It certainly puts the DoJ Terrorism and Criminal Extremism Terms and Concepts Guide ( http://publicintelligence.net/... into a proper light. Some of the misguided definitions are probably 'directed'.
Since the story of a terrorist inside a police/security agency is a better story I expect the FBI to start trying to entrap DHS agents, and the CIA trying to entrap FBI and the DHS trying to entrap KFC (based on their level of intelligence).
Then with the NSA spying on the secret service and the Army mostly fighting the Navy - the rest of us should be safe.
Whether or not they started the idea, someone who places a fake bomb but thought it was real at a synagogue, is a criminal. i've been poor. never would have accepted a million dollars to do such a thing
"Thus it can be said that there does not need to be an organisation the prosecutor only has to say there is..."
No. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I don't care about suggestions by biased parties, I only care about evidence. If no evidence exists for any organization, I don't care if someone says it exists, and the prosecutor should be laughed out of court without a case (assuming the person charged even gets a fair trial these days). If evidence exists that an organization was *started* by the government, then I would agree that it *is* entrapment. If evidence exists that government agents pushed an extreme agenda, against the wishes of an existing organization of only moderately bad people, I would also consider that entrapment. But the whole "planted an idea" notion is on shaky ground; the decision to *act* or not is far more pertinent.
"Ask yourself who is guilty when sheep stray onto a road and cause an accident. The sheep or the humans that one way or another alowed the sheep to stray or alowed the accident to happen?"
Uh, it's the sheep that are at fault (inasmuch as guilt can be assigned to the situation). You don't get a pass for being sheep. Then again, I'm the kind of person who never understood the notion of "not guilty by reason of insanity", because it seems to me that insanity (e.g., a mental state) has no bearing on whether or not there is evidence of a person having committed a crime. Just because sheep are stupid doesn't mean you have to go on a witch-hunt to blame someone smarter.
"Law enforcemet" is manufacturing imaginary hobgoblins to scare hoi polloi with. Film at 11.
Take a few otherwise harmless idiots. Become a kind of leader to them. Hype them up with the idea that they can achieve greatness. As soon as they make enough silly noises and half-assed preparations to secure a case, grab them, and start hyping their case before the media - but not showing much of the perps themselves - otherwise everybody would be able to see them for the weak-minded and harmless nobodies they really are. That's your tax dollars at work.
Milgram has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that *most* people could be talked into murdering others in a cruel and sadistic manner by an authority figure. Apparently only few people have balls and presence of mind sufficient to tell the authority to stuff it.
I wonder if the entrapment angle is why my "observers" (one said "its just an observation nothing serious") kept asking me weird questions as I worked at the homeless shelter, that is if I were a Muslim, and did I think we deserve the tragedy of 9-11, did I hate cops, will America get what she deserves for wars, do I hate soldiers, etc. I actually was offended by the hateful remarks and reminded them that we were working in a Christian shelter.
The setting of these bizarre conversations is not some shadowy organization, rather while working as a volunteer at a Christian homeless shelter that area churches provide food/labor/money.
Why would a woman who merely writes her congressman asking him to oppose bills funding torture in the name of Jesus be called a terrorist? I would never have believed any of this if I weren't living it. Its really changed my view of our country, and I guess I've been guilty of being a sheep.
@ Impossibly Stupid,
'But the whole "planted an idea" notion is on shaky ground; the decision to *act* or not is far more pertinent'
And there is the next line of entrapment...
At what point is "the decision to *act*" made and by whom.
For instance in the UK we have a youngster who has been found guilty of "incitement" because they where seen at the outer edges of a "gang" when those at the center (supposadly) decided to commit an act of violence against an another. The problem is the youngster has a significant hearing problem and would not have heard what was said. Further he did not live in the area and was only there visiting so it is unlikly he was part of the core of the gang.
Due to the politics of the situation we see no fair assesment of what went on only "demonisation" by those with a political or other material advantage to be gained.
In the UK we are seeing trial by media becoming more apparent with vested interests whipping up "moral outrage" in the press etc.
The question was once asked in Rome of where the Ceaser should spend money to buy the proletariat "Bread or Circus".
Well in the UK we our politicians appear to be doing both...
Your government agencies are scarily untrustworthy over there in Leftpondia. I'll rethink my coming over to see the Grand Canyon, what with me being a bearded non-Christian foreigner with a strange name to boot. After all, us savage Scandinavians are really dangerous, we go around burning villages and plundering churches daily. No wait, that was some time ago... Anyway, we're "terrists" all of us, sure we are.
Idiocy is as idiocy does...
"After all, us savage Scandinavians are really dangerous, we go around burning villages and plundering churches daily. No wait, that was some time ago..."
That is the stuff of myth and legends, the historical truth in the UK was some what different.
All through the ages authority figures screaming "their stealing our women and children" got the peasantry to act and "their stealing our religion" would get a few more in the merchant and nobal classes.
But cries by the authorities of "their stealing the money we stole from you" kind of does not get the sheeple moving in the right direction they just tend to say baa baa humbug.
In reality although there where a number of "pillageing" raids on the East coast they where nowhere near as bad as portrayed.
And yes they did steal our women by the age old method comming over with Danegelt and dangling it before their fathers eyes to get permission to marrying them. Some settled down permanently to trade, as craftsmen and work the abundently available land.
@ Impossibly Stupid
"uh, it's the sheep that are at fault"
Not really, the mental aspect IS important and sheep don't have it, you do get a pass for being a sheep.
When a virus escapes from a medical lab is the virus at fault, or are you going to go on a "witch-hunt" to blame someone smarter?
Likewise the defence of insanity; you need a functioning mind to be said to have committed most acts- physical evidence or not- so you go on a witch-hunt for the brains behind the act. If the FBI et al. are the brains behind the acts then...
Crafty lot those Vikings. Using money raised to pay them off so they won't ravage the country (Danegelt*) to legitimately "ravage" the country.
You could of course be arguing that the Danegelt wasn't actually paid to the Danes (just raised under the pretext).
I don't know, but either way plus ca change ...
>>"Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot,"
This brings a whole new meaning to
"ID 10-T" errors.
Now the "T" might actually refer to terrorist. ;-)
Ideally a country would have a foreign policy that doesn't make people in other countries want to commit acts of terror. Unfortunately that seems politically impossible for the US.
If there are going to be potential terrorists it would be ideal to not have smart terrorists. If law enforcement seems efficient then smart people who are potential terrorists will consider other options - such as criminal acts that get less attention from the police and shorter sentences if caught. Note that the suicide bombers are generally not particularly smart, the smart people program them.
When the peak law enforcement agency for a large first-world country demonstrates total incompetence in the manner described in the Salon article it will surely encourage other potential terrorists.
Among other things it is documented that the FBI has poor procedures for hiring informers. It seems that an FBI informer would be a good job for a terrorist, it would give them an excuse for all manner of shady dealings and a ready supply of cash. If an attack that was organised by an FBI informer was successful it would probably have a greater impact.
People who have a non-trusting relationship with the police are in a particularly difficult position with respect to resisting entrapment. They may reasonably believe that reporting the person trying to foment a crime will get them jailed as well/instead. At that point, especially if the money keeps flowing, going to jail for doing something may seem no worse than going to jail for not doing something. Also note, of course, that at least some of the people being arrested here actually suffer from mental illness.
It's easy, though, to fall into the prosecutorial mentality and assert that anyone who does unlawful things at the behest of a provocatuer is bad and should be locked up, even though they might not have even considered those unlawful things without government-paid help. I'm just thinking how this would play out with other unlawful acts -- would it be reasonable for the government to pay people to stand by the side of the road and flag down motorists to ask for a ride to the nearest hospital, and then install a speed trap around the nearest curve?
If you see something, ask yourself if you want to talk to the people Richard Jewel talked to. then do what fits your schedule.
If you have months to entertain the media on your front lawn, then "say something"
Remember Richard Jewel, forget the FBI. You don't have to talk to them and they can lie to you, and will lie to you every time you talk to them. Do not lie to them, its a crime.
@ Impossibly Stupid
"'Ask yourself who is guilty when sheep stray onto a road and cause an accident. The sheep or the humans that one way or another alowed the sheep to stray or alowed the accident to happen?'
Uh, it's the sheep that are at fault (inasmuch as guilt can be assigned to the situation). You don't get a pass for being sheep."
What if a billy goat (who is trying to work his way out of one-way trip to the deli) wonders aloud to a couple scrapie-infected sheep whether something must be done about those evil automobiles, "encourages" the angry Leicester Longwools to get into a lorry (provided by the farmer), drives them to scene of the "accident" (under the watchful eye of a police helicopter), puts a pile of Purina Sheep Chow in the middle of the road (whilst the highway patrol watches via live FLIR feed from a UAV), and turns the sheep loose to do whatever they were inclined to do?
"At what point is "the decision to *act*" made and by whom."
That is exactly the argument I made in my original post. It might be neigh impossible to parse out where "entrapment" begins in the web of interactions a mole would have while discussing ideas. But you can parse out the individuals who decide to act on the idea to do bad things; every person decides for themselves. So, again, the separation must be made between their willingness to *think* of doing bad things and their decision to actually *do* bad things.
"For instance in the UK . . ."
I really couldn't comment on that without knowing the specifics. Either they had proper evidence that resulted in a proper conviction, or it's just another way your legal system is screwed up (as are all legal systems). I have no problem believing the "stranger walks into a bar looking for a fight" scenario. I have no problem believing that a deaf person can stir up trouble in a crowd without hearing exactly what the crowd is fired up about. In some ways, it is *more* reasonable to expect that misunderstandings in communication with the fringes of groups can lead to escalated violence. Isn't that why we shouldn't be blaming all Muslims (or Christians) for what their sheltered extremists do?
"In the UK we are seeing trial by media becoming more apparent with vested interests whipping up "moral outrage" in the press etc."
It's not just in the UK. And I don't think it's a new thing, either. It's just something we find more evident because, thanks to the Internet, we are able to discuss world events directly as individuals rather than relying on traditional media to put on the blinders in the first place. That is a double-edged sword, though, because it also means that crazy individuals can get together and not feel so crazy. And the circle is complete when they get their own show on FOX!
"When a virus escapes from a medical lab is the virus at fault . . ."
At fault for *what*? A person might be blamed for allowing it to escape, but that is a distinct action from what the virus does. Does it kill people? Does it just give them sniffles? Does it give them super strength? Whatever the outcome, the virus *did* do it. The person can not be judged as a villain or a hero without intent; they just screwed up.
"you need a functioning mind to be said to have committed most acts"
Bull. Gravity acts in all kinds of ways without having intention. So does evolution. It is your *moralizing* that provides the "functioning mind". In a suitable bit of irony, you want to think that someone who is thinking is deserving of more blame when something bad happens. While that *could* be the case, it to wrong to assume that is the default without evidence.
If there is evidence of entrapment in these cases, I hope a suitable defense can be mounted. If there is only evidence of "hey, guys, if you want to blow something up, consider the Sears Tower", you're going to have to work a lot harder if I'm on the jury.
It's still on the sheep. They could have told the goat to piss off at the very beginning. :-)
@ Impossibly Stupid
So if a talking goat shows up driving a stolen truck and suggests stupid activities to sheep suffering from fatal neurological disorders we should assume he's a confidential informant then? Why, that's not impossibly stupid at all. ; )
@mcb at September 7, 2010 10:51 AM
“…angry Leicester Longwools to get into a lorry…”
I just got this flash of a kinda reverse “A Close Shave” (Wallace and Gromit)
Or maybe something from Pink Floyd:
“Bleating and babbling I fell on his neck with a scream,
“Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream…”
PS – You better watch out: there may be dogs about.
PPS – stopping now…
"Or maybe something from Pink Floyd:
'Bleating and babbling I fell on his neck with a scream,
'Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream…'"
Remind me never to study the lyrics of any more Pink Floyd songs...yow!
I think the term one might be looking for here is "joint and several liability". The poor mooks who actually commit some unlawful act at the behest of a paid informant/procurer are responsible for what they did, and the paid informant/procurer and that person's handlers are responsible as well.
But in the current scenario, the chief conspirator gets a pile of money and a chance to do it all over again somewhere else.
Hmm, how about this for a movie plot: a real terrorist gets a job as a paid informant and painstakingly uses the money and materiel supplied by his handlers to train and equip other real terrorists, with their Dastardly Plan scheduled to reach its fruition just as the police and feds have their spare resources committed for the raid on the informant's visible Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight. Depending on who's cast for what, the whole thing is foiled by either a lone cop following his gut or a couple of the recruits who have been trying to report their own terrorist cell to no avail, and belatedly realize they're being used as decoys.
The point here is that they are finding people with bad intent and trying to get them off the streets. Sure, maybe they could not have blown up the Sears Tower but more importantly, they wanted to. They eventually would have found another way to harm innocent people.
I think that's the wrong side of the line to be on. It may be a fine line to a certain extent, but what you're favoring is prosecuting a thought crime, and I'm not OK with that. To me, "they wanted to" is the *least* important factor to consider. People entertain thoughts of all sorts of crazy things. They dream of having an affair with a celebrity or killing their boss or whatever.
It is just wrong to push that idle fantasy into a real crime for the empty cause of "get them off the streets". But, like I said, if these people are already engaged in planning to really *do* something bad, I don't have a problem with someone on the inside directing them into a controlled situation that negates the potential for random harm. It's a honeypot scenario, and you *do* probably have entrapment if you can't even get that far.
So if one does find oneself the target of an FBI provocateur, what's the best move? I'm thinking one should get a restraining order against anyone who suggested any sort of subversive act. Not only would one get her version of events into the public record as early as possible, but the publicity involved in burning a CI would deter the state from pursuing the same target in any other misguided sting attempt (hahaha, this might be the first restraining order to be the subject of a gag order!). IANAL; any foreseeable problems with this? Would preemptively asserting innocence make one look guilty?
I had an interesting conversation with some Canadians the other day who swore up and down that the infamous Toronto terrorist cell was all just entrapment of impressionable kids -- the group had to first be convinced by undercover agents to start training (and a really poor job of it) before they could be arrested for training.
After reading the Salon article, I'm left with the impression that no organization has done more since 2001 to provide material support to alleged terrorists within the U.S. than the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Im just waiting for the story of an informant that approaches one of these "groups" and they kill him for BEING a terrorist, turn the corpse over to the police with taped evidence of his terrorist inclinations, and THEN will teh FBI come forward with tales of informants? Or sweep it under the rug knowing that its hard to recruit informants when the choice is no longer jail Vs Informing, but jail vs dead.
Americans ARE being trained by the federal government that terrorists are everywhere. Its only a matter of time before it shows up in a defense trail for murder "I thought he was a terrorist, so I defended myself and my country"
For those trying to think up movie plots...
Can I comend to you a book by Tom Sharpe written in 1973
It involves a number of sub plots but in essence it is about a less than bright second in command of a South African police force that has six under cover agents working in the field who as they are the only ones talking about such things end up finding each other. The scenarios include getting ostriches to swallow plastic explosives in condoms covered with honey and breakfast cereal.
For best enjoyment of the book you need to read Tom Sharpe's first book on the main charecters from 1971,
Oh it needs to be said that Tom Sharpe is an English author and was a teacher. He was working in South Africa and was deported for "sedition" (which might not be unrelated to the books).
On returning to the UK he took up a job working at a Tech College in Cambridgshire and wrot several other books including the "Wilt" series one of which was "Wilt on high" which this time includes the US Airforce seeking out spys and sabotures or others who wish to do harm but failing spectacularly.
Honestly, a simple thing to do is call the provocateur on it: "What the fuck are you talking about, you lunatic? We're pissed off about our foreign policy, but nobody here wants to blow shit up! Get the hell out of my house and don't come back." Even a simple "I'm not having any part in this nonsense, if you want to talk about blowing shit up, you can do it without me" will work fine.
Presumably, this is the common outcome for these provocateurs, right? It would be interesting to know how often the FBI informants/provocateurs get the cops called on them in one way or another.
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