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In Our View / FBI and terrorism


Foiling fake plots no help

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As the country continues to reel from the wide awake nightmare that was Newtown, Conn., and indeed, from the aftermath of all such "successful" plots of sick minds, people hope to find ways to prevent violence through efforts that seek to balance civil rights and safety.
That balance, however, has been lost when it comes to "terrorism" plots. We have given up rights (see the USA Patriot Act) in theory to help the government track would-be terrorists. But in doing so, we have reaped, among other things, case after case of plots that were, in fact, created by the FBI.
Case in point: Mohamed Osman Mohamud is currently on trial for allegedly plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. When the news broke, it was dutifully reported that the FBI "thwarted" the plot. At the time Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said: "The good work of law enforcement protected Oregonians in this case -- and we have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."
Details of the case, however, reveal there was no "continuing threat" because there was never any threat, and Oregonians were protected from a plot that didn't exist.
It would seem a given that one way to prevent violent plots is to not create them in the first place, and not present them on a silver platter to an unstable person.
Mohamud's parents alerted the FBI about their son, worried he was trying to return to Somalia, his country of birth. He attempted to e-mail al-Qaida operatives, who never got back to him. On June 14, 2010, Mohamud tried to board a flight to Kodiak, Alaska from Portland. He wasn't allowed to board and was interviewed by the FBI. Mohamud told the FBI he wanted to earn money fishing and then travel to join "the brothers." He said he had earlier hoped to travel to Yemen but failed to get a ticket or a visa.
This would have been the time to arrest an obviously confused and troubled Mohamud. He tried to board a flight without a ticket. But this is when the plotting really began in earnest. The FBI began e-mailing him, pretending to be al-Qaida recruiters.
The result a few months later was the "thwarting" of a bomb plot supposedly organized by a young man who just months earlier tried to board an airplane without a ticket.
We have enough people, foreign and domestic, capable of carrying out their violent plots. We are not safer for the thwarting of fictional scenarios, or for convicting individuals of crimes they couldn't have possibly conceived, or executed.

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