By Kevin Gosztola
The liberal news magazine Mother Jones has published a major investigation of the FBI’s use of terrorism informants for investigations, such as sting operations. The investigation is the product of a year’s worth of work by Trevor Aaronson who looked into every terrorism case prosecuted by the government since 9/11.
The project is a superb example of investigative journalism. Five hundred domestic terror prosecutions were reviewed. A list of all successful terrorism prosecutions from the 9/11 attacks to 2009 (which Aaronson “unwittingly” obtained through Eric Holder’s testimony to Congress in March 2010) was used. Aaronson brought the list of cases up to date by looking at the Justice Department’s criteria for a “terrorism case” and applying it to the latest federal cases. Additonally, he went on to interview as many of the FBI agents involved in the sting operations as possible (and received some assistance from Lowell Bergman, head of the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, whom Al Pacino played in the film The Insider).
The investigation helps Americans better answer the question of whether this country is made safer by a government that concocts terror plots to entrap individuals, whom the government perceives to be people who may some day at some point pose a terror threat to the country. It found out of all the sting operations 158 defendants had been prosecuted—49 of those defendants had participated in plots that had been instigated by an agent provocateur, an FBI operative. It discovered the extent to which money was being used as an incentive to push individuals to commit terror plots. And, the investigation was able to conclude that out of all the “high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade” only three of the plots were not FBI stings.
The product of the investigation—Aaronson’s article, “The Informants”—is a six-page cover story that presents key elements of the FBI’s domestic spying program. Since 9/11, Aaronson explains, the bulk of the FBI’s budget, $3.3 billion, has gone toward “counterterrorism” operations. The money has been used to build a network of informants. In recent years, “informant recruiting” has been a key FBI objective.
…After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”