The CAIR for New York Blog
By Awo Osman| Feb 4, 2013
Does the FBI manufacture terrorism?
According to Trevor Aaronson’s investigative journalism, yes they do. On Thursday January 31, Aaronson spoke at his NYC book launch to expose the FBI network of informants that target Muslims who are type-casted as 'terrorists.' Far from questioning broader homeland security strategies that impede the civil rights of a certain category of Americans, Aaronson’s work questions the credibility of charges held against these individuals.
The underlying assumption here is that the FBI and the Judiciary system struggle with a crucial question: how to separate facts from psychology.
Psychology is at the heart of this book as both the FBI and the Jury are entrapped by their collective memories shaped by 9/11, while condemning these so called terrorists without necessarily considering the facts created by law enforcement that made the specific act of terror possible. Aaronson insists that it is not national security, but rather these individuals’ mental and social vulnerabilities that lead FBI informants to prey on them.
Among the plethora of cases described by the author, the most remarkable one concerns the case of an Albany pizza owner named Mohammed Hossein. Hossein was a typical immigrant chasing the American dream. He emigrated from Bangladesh in 1985 with his parents, wife and disabled young brother. As the only breadwinner of the family, he supported them all by operating a pizzeria in the heart of Albany.
How did the owner of a small pizzeria tucked away in Albany become a dangerous terrorist overnight?
The FBI used the help of their now notorious informant Shahed Hussein, to connect the pizzeria owner to the leader of the local Islamic Center called Yassin Aref. The informant’s profile is detailed in Aaronson’s book, and it highlights the FBI’s use of former criminals such as Shahed Hussein, as informants to entrap 'would-be terrorists.'
Shahed was born in an affluent family in Pakistan; he fled to the US with the help of a Russian smuggler to avoid convictions for numerous criminal charges including murder. After settling down in Albany and successfully applying for Political asylum and his naturalization, Shahed started to set up massive criminal scams to defraud innocent New Yorkers. These scams are exactly what put Shahed on the radar of the FBI. He eventually made a deal with the government agency to avoid criminal prosecution and he became an informant. His ability to speak languages spoken in the Muslim community made him a valuable asset for the FBI.
Shahed befriended the pizzeria owner and Bengali immigrant, and began to use him in an attempt to also lure the religious leader of an Albany Islamic center. Shahed learned about the pizza owner‘s financial struggles and offered to help him with money. In return, Hossein and the imam would have to sell a missile brought by the FBI informant. Although the pair did not set up any terrorist plot nor did they sell the missile, the FBI decided to arrest them and charge them with money laundering and supporting a foreign terrorist.
Mohammed Hossein got 15 years while Yassin Arif was incarcerated in a special prison in Indiana. This case is particularly important because it also reveals a dysfunctional expertise. Counter terrorism experts burgeoned in the last decade but only a happy few possess sufficient knowledge. A self-proclaimed counter terrorism expert testified during the Hossein and Arif trial. In fact, Mohammed Hossein admitted his ties with the Jamaat Al Islami; a political party in Bangladesh but the expert confused the Bengali Jamaat Al Islami with the Pakistani Jamaat Al Islami, which was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. This ultimate mistake destroyed Hossein and Arif's lives.
Debate Surrounding Aarsonson's Book
As expected one of the FBI agents involved in this kind of operation responded to Aaronson's Terror Factory. Ali Soufan, under the guise of writing a review of the book, wrote an inflammatory diatribe where he defended his own methods of investigation. But the goal here is not to observe a tennis match between Aaronson and the FBI but to understand how post 9/11 homeland security strategies targeted a single community, and how American Muslims civil rights eroded in the name of US National Security and US Foreign Policy.
And that is precisely the limitation of this book; Aaronson hardly evokes how US Foreign Policy and US engagement in two wars necessarily shaped homeland security strategies. By emphasizing the lack of ethics and the entrapment strategies, Aaronson’s research does not grasp the core issue, which is the credibility of a rising homegrown terrorism. Simply put, so-called terrorists have been incited by FBI entrapment scenarios; they would not have engaged in terrorism without the actions of FBI informants.
Famous think tanks such as the Rand Corporation and the Council of Foreign Relations warned against a potential “homegrown terrorism on the peak.” But the book demystifies most of the cases generally exhibited as undeniable proof. Aaronson shows that the famous case of the "Lakwana Six" that involved six Yemeni men was null and void, as the Government did not have any proof against them. Mohamed Osman, a young Somali- American from Portland, who allegedly worked for the Al Qaeda run magazine Inspire, is in fact another case set up by the FBI. Of course, no one denies that different individuals such as Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab tried to carry out terrorist actions on the American soil but these actions had been mastermind by Al Qaeda linked groups outside of the United States and do not involve American- Muslims. And this reality opens the door to another question: why does the FBI not focus on how to prevent US citizens to join war zones and fight for Al Qaeda related groups? But tackling this issue requires another book.
Furthermore, Aaronson does not explain about how the FBI gets the funding that its informants easily provide to their targets. Although he mentions the different types of procedures like “ off the table” or “ off the taxes,” the readers do not necessarily understand how and where this money comes from and how it is budgeted.
In conclusion, Aaronson’s book explains the unchecked FBI strategies that help “manufacture" terrorism while not analyzing the potential reasons our government exploits and publicizes that same manufactured terrorism. More broadly, this book provides arguments to dismiss a commonly accepted view that rising homegrown terrorism is essentially led by American- Muslims. I hope this book can open more discussions about these strategies, and forces communities to consider the government's role in these cases before immediately celebrating the imprisonment of another vulnerable individual who's only crime was to be duped by the feds.
Awo Osman is a government affairs intern at CAIR-NY. She is enrolled in the Masters Program for International Relations at the New York University.