When the FBI announces, as it has done numerous times in recent years, that it has thwarted a home-grown Islamist terror plot, the American media greets the announcement with hysteria.
But as radio documentary This American Life reveals, there is a side of the story that is rarely reported.
The juicy minutiae of the plot are pored over: in 2010, Mohamed Osman Mohamud planned to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event; in 2009, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi plotted to bomb a Dallas skyscraper and Farooque Ahmed planned to bomb the Washington Metro. In 2011, Rezwan Ferdaus was arrested after planning to attack the Pentagon with model airplanes carrying explosives.
But the American media mostly fails to mention how the FBI has managed to be so successful at thwarting these domestic terror plots: in all of these cases, it is undercover FBI agents who have planned the attack, supplied the materials and encouraged ‘terrorists’ – who are frequently teenagers – to take part.
Salon writer Glenn Greenwald describes the actions of the FBI’s agent provocateurs:
‘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.’
This American Life tells the story of one of the most cack-handed and shocking of these FBI stings. In 2006, a small-time crook called Craig Monteilh was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a mosque in Orange County, California. Monteilh is white, six foot two, and built like a bodybuilder.
His mission: to lure the males of the Orange County mosque into the gym, where, with talk of jihad and Osama bin Laden, he would recruit them for a terror plot. The name of his assignment: Operation Flex.
But Operation Flex hit an early stumbling block when Monteilh’s targets were more interested in playing Fifa on Xbox than going anywhere near the gym. Ayman and Yassir, Monteilh’s targets, liked their new recruit and started hanging out with him. But they were freaked out when Farouk, as Craig was known to them, began introducing jihad and Osama bin Laden to every possible conversation. Neither Ayman or Yassir showed the slightest interest in discussing holy war, and they told Craig that he had misunderstood what Islam was and that the conversations must stop.
Undeterred, Craig began using similar tactics on two other men from the Mosque, Mohammad Elsisy and Ahmad Niazi. One day, whilst driving to mosque, Craig started advancing the possibility of carrying out a bombing to the two men. Mohammad and Ahmad promptly reported him to the FBI. The story only gets more ridiculous from there.
The FBI refused to comment on This American Life’s story: it is currently being sued by members of the mosque, with Craig Monteilh as the star witness against his former employers. But with extensive interviews with members of the mosque and a fascinatingly candid Craig Monteilh himself, the programme pieces together the sordid tale of the risible Operation Flex.
Last year, the Associated Press won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, after uncovering a massive secret NYPD spying operation covering virtually all of the city’s Muslim communities, despite having no evidence of terrorist activity.
Whether it’s through infiltration of mosques by the FBI or police spies in cafes or meeting spaces, it’s no wonder that so many American Muslim leaders are warning that US law enforcement’s approach is sowing a corrosive fear and distrust amongst their communities.
This story was originally published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.