When terrorist hijackers struck on Sept. 11, 2001, federal investigators had few contacts among international terror informants and little intelligence about global terrorism. Now, says USA Today, government investigators increasingly are resorting to a controversial tactic that has netted alleged plotters in Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago. But simultaneous, months-long operations in Portland and suburban Baltimore are raising questions about whether the government is going too far in trying to identify dangerous operatives, entrapping suspects who lack the desire or ability to carry out the plots. In both cases, informants identified suspects on the Internet and then undercover agents engaged them in elaborate ruses culminating in the delivery of dummy bombs to their targets.
Public defender Peter Fleury in Dallas represented Hosam Smadi, 20, a Jordanian national snared in a plot to attack a downtown Dallas skyscraper with a bomb that was fake and had been assembled by the FBI. He says Smadi, sentenced to 24 years in prison, was a victim of entrapment. “Left to his own devices, he wouldn’t have been able to pose a danger to anybody,” Fleury says. Farhana Khera of the Muslim civil rights group Muslim Advocates says the FBI could be wasting valuable resources on people who, without the FBI’s planning and technical help, may be incapable of little more than spouting unpopular political rhetoric. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defends the government’s tactics. “I make no apologies for how the FBI agents handled their work,” Holder told Khera’s group last week.