FBI Should Pursue Only Real Terrorists

By Trevor Aaronson, For The Wall Street Journal, On Feb 4th 2013, Read Original

In his review of my book "The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism" (Bookshelf, Jan. 24), former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan argues that I am attempting to show that no threat of terrorism exists in the U.S. I do no such thing. Richard Reid and Faisal Shahzad, to take two prominent examples, meant harm and had the means to deliver that harm without the help of an agent provocateur. (Reid is the notorious "shoe bomber," who intended to bring down an American Airlines flight; Shahzad planted a car bomb in Times Square that failed to go off.) They are real terrorists. In his review, Mr. Soufan cites these men as examples of the threat of terrorism. He doesn't mention, however, that neither of them was caught in an FBI sting operation.

I am critical of the FBI justifying its undercover sting operations—designed to identify people who, for whatever reason, hate the U.S. but who are incapable of significant violence without assistance from undercover FBI agents and informants—by claiming that such operations are something that the American people want.

To be sure, al Qaeda has attacked here at home, and there is every reason to monitor those who sympathize with terrorist organizations. But should the FBI manufacture crimes to punish people who simply have bad thoughts?