What's all this surveillance, which kicked up during the post-9/11 panic, really about? What, exactly, are we being protected from?
Those are the questions to ask when reading this new article in the Guardian:
Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.
Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.
The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system's ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.
You can find the full, 214-page report at Human Rights Watch, whose deputy director Andrea Prasow says:
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
So, back to the question: What's all this "security" really about? Back in 2011, I spoke to some former FBI agents for this story about an extensive and ridiculous SPD/FBI "sting" looking for domestic terrorists in what was essentially a series of after-hours parties. The former agents said all this "security" and surveillance was really just about money—politicians were eager to shove piles of cash at law enforcement after 9/11 because it made them look like they were doing something important. That resulted in a lot of new jobs and new technology looking for a reason to exist. When the agencies realized that a) finding Al-Qaeda was hard and b) there wasn't that much else to look for, they became ingrown and plowed the force of that money and energy back into everyday civilian lives, scouring for (and, in some cases, inventing) the slightest quivers of abnormality just to keep the allocations spigot open.
This is what the former FBI agents were saying—which is probably the most generous interpretation.
And Al Jazeera just released this investigation of FBI informants in Muslim communities. I haven't had time to dig through it all, but I'm guessing their research didn't turn up paragons of wisdom, judiciousness, and humaneness.