FBI-Created 'Terrorist Plot' Fails To Produce A Single Terrorist — But Does Plenty Of Damage To Individual Liberties

from the sacrificing-your-1st-and-4th-amendment-rights-on-the-altar-of-security dept

As the FBI continues its perfect streak of successfully thwarting every terrorist plan it has conceived and put in motion itself (a few of which have been covered here), details of an unintentionally hilarious (and particularly horrendous) “terrorist plot” conjured up back in 2006 have emerged, thanks to an NPR expose and a lawsuit filed against the FBI by some of the unwilling participants.

Dubbed “Operation Flex” in deference to its main participant, this 2006 FBI project attempted to uncover a terrorist cell in a group of Orange County Muslims, even if it had to invent that cell itself. The FBI's man on the inside was Craig Montielh, who likely cut an incongruous figure at the mosque at 6'2″, 260 lbs… and white. A bodybuilder with a sketchy past, Montielh was instructed to make contact with the supposed jihadists during his frequent visits to an Irvine gym where many of the Muslim men worked out.

To Montielh's credit, he sunk himself into the role. His FBI contacts suspected his new friends might be a terrorist cell because, well, they were four, unmarried Egyptian men living under one roof. But his enthusiasm for the job was constantly thwarted by his “targets,” who preferred playing FIFA Soccer on the Xbox to discussing terrorist plots.

At first, they treated Montielh (who was going by the name “Farouk”) as one of them, a new acolyte in need of guidance. But as time went on and Montielh became desperate to show results, his desire to turn idle revolutionary chat into action began to worry his companions. Montielh's first move was to amp up his personal relationship with Allah.

Months passed. People noticed that Craig was acting more devout. He began reciting prayers aloud, dressing in traditional robes, and showing up so early for 5:00 AM prayers that he'd get there before the person who unlocked the mosque every morning. They also noticed something else.

Yassir Abdel Rahim – Slowly and surely enough, during some times when we were having coffee, came the question of jihad.

Craig talked to his Arabic teacher, Mohammad Elsisy, about his new obsession too.

Mohammad Elsisy – He invited me once to lunch, yes. And he focused the topic in the lunch about jihad. And I keep turning his attention into the essence of Islam. And he keeps, again, bringing it back to jihad. And he kept asking about jihad over and over and over. And I told him, Farouk, get over it, get over it, get over it.

With Montielh trying and failing repeatedly to get these California Muslims to warm up to his own personal jihad, the FBI decided it was time for phase two. Montielh was told to start talking up an actual terrorist plot to blow up buildings in Southern California. After Montielh aggressively broached the subject to his friends during a car ride, they decided to do what anyone would have done in that situation:

After they parted ways with Craig, Mohammad and Niazi talked about what had just happened. They decided they had to do something, so they did what all Americans are supposed to do in this situation, what law enforcement officials tell us we should do when someone says he has access to weapons and wants to use them. They reported Craig to the FBI as a potential terrorist.

Mohammed and Niazi had Hussam Ayloush, the director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, make the call for them. He spoke to Steve Tidwell, the head of the FBI's California branch. Tidwell didn't even ask for a name or last known address of this white Muslim terrorist and assured Hussam that the FBI would take it from here. And the FBI did, launching what, for all intents and purposes, looked like an actual terrorist investigation.

But instead of wholeheartedly pursuing its own man, the FBI agents were more interested in repeatedly questioning everyone Montielh had talked to. They honed in on Niazi, whose sister was married to Amin al-Haq, designated as a terrorist by the US government. The FBI agents used this as leverage in an attempt to get Niazi to become a paid informant and go to work for them in Afghanistan. When he refused, the FBI had him arrested for “immigration fraud and making false statements.”

But what's interesting about Niazi's arrest is what he wasn't charged with. He wasn't charged with associating with terrorists himself. He wasn't charged with plotting an attack. And he wasn't charged for anything he'd ever said to Craig over the course of months of recorded conversations.

At Niazi's trial, Agent Thomas Ropel repeatedly told the prosecutor that Niazi had instigated the conversations related to the so-called “terrorist plot.” This isn't the way Montielh (or his tapes) remembers it:

Sam Black – Did Niazi ever instigate this kind of conversation with you?

Craig Montielh – No. No, I did. Every time.

Despite not being charged with anything more serious than immigration fraud and “making false statements,” Niazi was placed under house arrest for more than a year. He represents all of the arrests or indictments made as a result of Operation Flex. And even this didn't stick. The US government filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Niazi.

Another home-built terrorist operation and not even a single conviction to show for it. In fact, the FBI is arguably worse off now than if it had never begun the investigation. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has brought a lawsuit against FBI over Operation Flex, claiming the investigation violated their First Amendment rights by targeting them for their religious beliefs, as well as subjecting them to searches and monitoring without a warrant. The botched operation has also done damage to the Muslim community in California:

Operation Flex didn't just make people suspicious of law enforcement. It made them suspicious of each other. So many people I talked to say they stay away from new converts now. They have a hard time believing people are who they say they are. Here's Ayman, the Egyptian guy who first befriended Craig.

Ayman – Really, what they did is they made everybody in the mosque not trust everybody. Nobody would talk about it, but nobody– you would see some weird looks, you know what I mean? People are looking at each other weird. I don't know. Maybe I was sensitive, but I can tell that the way they looked at me was just different.

In addition to making themselves look like a bunch of government agents creating their own busywork to stay employed, the FBI has taken yet another serious hit to its credibility. Early on in the transcript, it's noted that Stephen Tidwell (head of the FBI in Los Angeles) made an earlier approach via a town meeting at the Islamic Center of Irvine. He assured everyone attending that the FBI was not monitoring the mosque and that they would be informed if anyone from the FBI was planning to visit. That was June 5, 2006. Operation Flex began roughly two months later.

Then there's this troubling statistic, courtesy of investigative journalist Trevor Aaronson, who's studied hundreds of terrorism convictions:

Of about 500 terrorism cases since 9/11, about 50 defendants have been involved in cases where the informant came up with the idea and provided all of the means.

Finally, the worst, but least surprising, news of all: in an update to the story, NPR points out that US District Judge Cormac Carney has dismissed the lawsuit brought by CAIR, stating that allowing the the suit to proceed would “significantly compromise national security.”

Carney’s self-serving statement casts him (and a large part of the government's various secretive services) as an ancient Greek hero:

In struggling with this conflict, the Court is reminded of the classic dilemma of Odysseus, who faced the challenge of navigating his ship through a dangerous passage, flanked by a voracious six-headed monster, on the one side, and a deadly whirlpool, on the other. Odysseus opted to pass by the monster and risk a few of his individual sailors, rather than hazard the loss of his entire ship to the sucking whirlpool. Similarly, the proper application of the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security.

I know the Greeks laid the foundation for modern democracy, but perhaps we shouldn’t base our decisions on their epic tragedies.

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Comments on “FBI-Created 'Terrorist Plot' Fails To Produce A Single Terrorist — But Does Plenty Of Damage To Individual Liberties”

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Keroberos (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Beat me to the Franklin quote. On a different note, these cases are not only horrifying, but extremely dangerous for our actual national security. How do you think the real Islamic terrorists feel when they here about these kind of shenanigans? If I were a terrorist, I would be truly pissed off at what the US has been doing to people who haven’t done anything, but just happen to be Islamic.

SujaOfJauhnral (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Reminds me of artists who support copyright.

“Oh, we’re not allowed to do that because the MAFIAA doesn’t let us!”

Okay, so why don’t you just … NOT listen to them?

“Oh no no, we can’t do THAT, if we don’t have copyright we won’t be ‘protected’!!”

Yet, to have this ‘protection’ you have to give up your rights for it.

“Omg! You must be a freetard pirate, only freetard pirates don’t grasp the ultimate awesomeness of copyright law! It’s worth sacrificing your first born child for!”

Some people really do deserve to be rightless underlings.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re a little off. It was abandoned on March 9, 1953 – the date US v. Reynolds was decided. This was the first invocation of state’s secrets privilege.

The widows of some air force pilots that died sued the government. They wanted accident reports. The government asserted privilege, claiming the reports contained information on classified equipment. The lawsuit was tossed (though fortunately the widows did get some settlement money).

Fast forward 47 years, and the accident report is declassified. The only information it contained said the airplanes had classified equipment, but not what that equipment was. Essentially, the very first invocation of the privilege was abusive.

It’s also worth noting that traditionally, the privilege has only been used to exclude certain pieces of evidence. The tossing of entire lawsuits is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Ninja (profile) says:

This is scary. And it’s a very faithful portrait of both the fear-driven society and the police state that have been established in the US.

With the NDAA fresh and ready to be abused by the loons in the FBI the Americans have very real reasons to fear. Except that they are directing their fear towards an imaginary enemy instead of their own Government.


Anonymous Coward says:

seems as if the court has aided and abetted the FBI here. it would have been better to allow the case to go forward. as it is now, they are free to continue dreaming up more ridiculous plots that aren’t true over imaginary situations with non-existent terrorists.

using the lies here, i can see that Assange would never be sent to the USA, arrested as soon as he set foot outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, put in front of a mock trial, found guilty for releasing the governments atrocities to the World and then locked away for God knows how long. of course it wont ever happen! trust the US government always tells the truth!

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Eff to America!

Given the sheer number of people who believe the myth, as well as based on this level of incompetance and malice; I’d be surprised if they weren’t actively trying to set up a sting operation by inviting their own Commander in Chief to join a terrorist cell.

Y’know, him being a muslim, communist, nazi, unamerican, non-american, america-hating, muslim, freedom-hating, stinking liberal.

Richard (profile) says:

Carney should have quoted the Bible instead

Carney’s self-serving statement casts him (and a large part of the government’s various secretive services) as an ancient Greek hero:

No it doesn’t – it casts him as Caiaphas – the high priest largely responsible for the crucifixion.

“Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”

John 18:14

That One Guy (profile) says:

A new anti-terrorism method?

I wonder if this whole thing is just a new anti-terrorism method thought up by the FBI to deter out-of-country terrorists, by simply making them feel unneeded.

I mean, if a potential terrorist looks at america, it’s pretty obvious the government is already doing it’s best to make the people fear, distrust and hate it, so really, what would a foreign terrorist have to do?

When the government itself is doing more harm to the public than any terrorist could ever dream of, there’s really nothing for them to add, so perhaps the FBI is just trying to put the ‘official’ terrorists out of business.

SujaOfJauhnral (profile) says:

Re: A new anti-terrorism method?

You know what, good point.

If I where a terrorist I’d be mighty jealous of the American government, they can get away doing things I’d be put to death for and the people just have to suck it up and deal with it.

Not only can they get away with it, those same people they lord over will defend them to the death over their ‘right’ to do it. It’s the ultimate terrorism. I would just quit and find something else to do.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I found the terrorists!

I’m only asking for 10% of the FBI’s terror budget for sharing this information.

They are us.

We have created a system that needs to find the boogeyman at any cost (or else face budget cuts), and this inflicts terror on the citizens.

In this time –
– we spend huge amounts of cash and promise them more if only they produce results… even if those results are flawed.
– we suspend the rule of law… because terrorists.
– we suspend the rights we are fighting to preserve… because terrorists.
– we are ripping society apart with mistrust of anyone different… because terrorists.
– we keep everyone uneasy, either fearing they will be a victim of or they will be cast as the terrorist.
– we found a new way to allow racism to thrive… because terrorists.
– we have people felt up to get on planes because of a singular horrific event and the overreaction to it.
– we pay the salaries of people who are xenophobic and want to cause harm to people coming to this country. Calling them illegals does not suddenly make it right to commit murder.

We willingly gave up everything we claim to be protecting, to have ourselves terrorized… to keep us safe from terrorists.
We are so fucking doing it wrong.
Meanwhile the actual terrorists are sitting back and laughing their asses off, occasionally letting some “chatter” slip out to see if they can get more giant overreactions. They use these overreactions to fuel the growing hatred of the US, because we play into their hands over and over.

I would rather vote for someone branded “soft on terrorism” by Faux News who wants to take reasonable steps, than someone willing to sign everyone up for colonoscopy’s to get in line at Starbucks.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m pretty sure my next door neighbor is a terrorist. Why would I say this? Well he is the only Muslim in this small town so he has to be right?

Alright enough looking at it from the FBIs point of view lol.. No actually he’s one of the more stable people in this town.

If something blew up I’d probably look down the road at the old religious bitch that will condemn you to hell for smoking. Plus the 900 cats are a dead giveaway that she’s fucking nuts.

Lennart Regebro says:

The main problem here is that US law allows sting operations, it allows the police and the FBI to provide the opportunity for people to commit crimes they otherwise would not have made.

In any sane legal system, this would be entrapment, and would be illegal. I think the biggest step towards having actual rule of law in the US would be to disallow sting operations of any kind. That would also force the police force to stop actual crimes, instead of creating made-up crimes.

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