Two days ago, FBI agents arrested 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus on terrorism charges in Framingham. Ferdaus, a resident of Ashland, stands accused of plotting to wage “jihad” against the U.S government and “kafirs” (i.e., non-believers) by providing “material support” to Al-Qaeda and by attacking the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol Building.
Ferdaus allegedly planned to fill remote-controlled model airplanes with plastic explosives and fly them into the two buildings using GPS tracking devices. After the explosives went off, Ferdaus planned to have two small teams of men go on shooting sprees at the buildings with AK-47s. The “material support” charge against Ferdaus stems from the fact that he also allegedly modified several mobile phones so that they would send an electrical signal through a wire when called. The electricity could apparently be used to remotely detonate improvised explosives devices if one of the phones was properly attached to one.
Pretty scary stuff, isn’t it? Who would have thought that a terrorist mastermind could possibly be lurking in Ashland, a small Massachusetts town with a population of just 16,593? “Things like this make you wonder if you ever really know your neighbors, or anyone else for that matter,” mused MetroWest Daily News columnist Julia Spitz.
And yet, upon closer inspection, Ferdaus’s plot reveals itself to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Ferdaus, as it turns out, had no connections to actual terrorists, none of the skills necessary to pull off the attack he was planning, no access to the weapons necessary for the plot, and no money to buy the necessary supplies. The only people involved in the plot other than Ferdaus were two anonymous undercover FBI agents and an anonymous “cooperating witness” (i.e., an informant) who posed as terrorists to convince Ferdaus to carry out the plot. All the guns, explosives, and model airplanes were directly provided by or indirectly paid for by the FBI (using your tax money, of course). The FBI even paid for the storage space that Ferdaus was using to stockpile the items and helped Ferdaus get to Washington D.C. to do “surveillance” of the buildings he planned to attack. None of the phones Ferdaus modified were ever used to detonate explosives nor did they ever end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda members.
Carmen M. Ortiz, the United States attorney in Boston, actually went so far as to say in a public statement that “The public was never in danger from the explosive devices.”
What’s more, it appears to be very unlikely that Ferdaus’s plan would have worked if he had been given a chance to try putting it into action. According to an Associated Press article, “Counterterrorism experts and model-aircraft hobbyists said it would be nearly impossible to inflict large-scale damage of the sort Ferdaus allegedly envisioned using model planes. The aircraft are too small, can’t carry enough explosives and are too tricky to fly, they said.”
FBI agents spending months trying to goad an individual into committing a terrorist attack that they otherwise would not have the means to carry out is not a new phenomenon. As Glenn Greenwald summarizes on his Salon.com blog:
Time and again, the FBI concocts a Terrorist attack, infiltrates Muslim communities in order to find recruits, persuades them to perpetrate the attack, supplies them with the money, weapons and know-how they need to carry it out — only to heroically jump in at the last moment, arrest the would-be perpetrators whom the FBI converted, and save a grateful nation from the plot manufactured by the FBI.
Last year, the FBI subjected 19-year-old Somali-American Mohamed Osman Mohamud to months of encouragement, support and money and convinced him to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon, only to arrest him at the last moment and then issue a Press Release boasting of its success. In late 2009, the FBI persuaded and enabled Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year old Jordanian citizen, to place a fake bomb at a Dallas skyscraper and separately convinced Farooque Ahmed, a 34-year-old naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan, to bomb the Washington Metro. And now, the FBI has yet again saved us all from its own Terrorist plot by arresting 26-year-old American citizen Rezwan Ferdaus after having spent months providing him with the plans and materials to attack the Pentagon, American troops in Iraq, and possibly the Capitol Building using “remote-controlled” model airplanes carrying explosives.
None of these cases entail the FBI’s learning of an actual plot and then infiltrating it to stop it. They all involve the FBI’s purposely seeking out Muslims (typically young and impressionable ones) whom they think harbor animosity toward the U.S. and who therefore can be induced to launch an attack despite having never taken even a single step toward doing so before the FBI targeted them. Each time the FBI announces it has disrupted its own plot, press coverage is predictably hysterical (new Homegrown Terrorist caught!), fear levels predictably rise, and new security measures are often implemented in response…
— Glenn Greenwald, “The FBI again thwarts its own Terror plot,” Salon, September 29, 2011
Don’t get me wrong: if the allegations against Ferdaus are accurate, then he’s a reprehensible individual and I would never try to suggest otherwise. But time and resources are limited and we would be much safer if that time and those resources were spent pursuing people who actually pose a threat to the public.
There are millions of violent crimes and property crimes in the United States that go unsolved every year. If there are really so few people who have both the motivation and means to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States that the FBI actually has to manufacture its own terrorist plots in order to make terrorism arrests, then it’s time for the government to stop spending so much money on unnecessary “counter-terrorism” programs and instead invest it in apprehending suspects for some of these unsolved crimes that actually affect our society.
You can download the criminal complaint against Rezwan Ferdaus here (.pdf format) or read it in the Scribd embed below: