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The FBI’s Dubious Record on Prosecuting Terror Plots

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If you’re planning to commit an act of terror in the US and want to be left alone by the FBI, make sure your target is something, or someone, that the US government doesn’t like or care about.

Consider these two terrorist plots.

Just last week, on Jan. 14, the FBI announced that it had arrested Christopher Lee Cornell, a guy in Ohio the bureau alleges had plans to attack Congress with pipe bombs and guns. Apparently acting alone, Cornell is alleged by the FBI to have “researched how to make pipe bombs” (there’s no indication that he actually made or tested any actual bombs), and to have purchased a pair of M-15 semi-automatic rifles and ammunition. How Cornell, who is described as a self-styled “jihadist,” but one with no real connection with foreign Islamic militants, planned to get past the metal detectors and tight security at the Capitol Building in Washington, was not explained, and probably was not known to Cornell himself. It also appears that the FBI was watching Cornell all along, and no doubt encouraging him too, as it was working with a snitch — a man facing prosecution who was in communication with Cornell and may well have been a provocateur, given the Bureau’s prior history of luring vulnerable people into planning terror acts which it then busts.

Compare this case with one we reported on earlier here, which was in the works in the fall of 2011. I’m referring to a terrorism plot in Houston, TX, which the FBI never did report publicly, but which was instead disclosed only thanks to some documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 by the Washington, DC-based public interest law firm Partnership for Civil Justice, and which involved an apparently well-developed plan to assassinate leaders of the Houston Occupy Movement. Those documents — internal memos sent out by FBI offices in Houston and Gainesville, FL — refer to “one identified [deleted]” that “planned to engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary.”

The initial memo, sent to FBI headquarters in Washington from the Houston FBI office, went on to say that the “identified” plotters “had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas,” and that they “planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest group and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership by suppressed sniper rifles.”

A second memo, sent out by the Gainesville, FL FBI office, says that the Houston assassination plot, while not executed, was actually just put on hold. As that memo states: “writer sent via email an excerpt from the daily [DELETED] regarding FBI Houston’s [DELETED] to all IAs, SSRAs and SSA [DELETED] This [DELETED] identified the exploitation of the Occupy Movement by [LENGTHY DELETION] interested in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.”

That’s a lot of rich detail about an evidently serious plot that never resulted in any arrests.

Yet as we reported in an article which just won a 2015 Project Censored Award, the FBI never pursued this plot and never arrested anyone. Indeed when Paul Bresson, the senior public affairs officer for the Bureau in Washington, was asked by this reporter for an explanation for this bizarre lack of interest in a known plot to murder innocent protesters, and for the identity of the terrorist plotters, he evasively replied, “The FOIA documents that you reference are redacted in several places pursuant to FOIA and privacy laws that govern the release of such information so therefore I am unable to help fill in the blanks that you are seeking. Exemptions are cited in each place where a redaction is made. As far as the question about the murder plot, I am unable to comment further, but rest assured if the FBI was aware of credible and specific information involving a murder plot, law enforcement would have responded with appropriate action.”

Actually, the response of the US Homeland Security Department to journalists who looked into the federal government’s involvement in the violent suppression of the 2011 Occupy movement don’t shouldn’t make anyone feel like “resting assured” about anything. In 2014, we learned that our publication, in fact, had been the subject back on Nov. 18, 2011, of an alert sent out by Homeland Security’s Washington Office of Threat Assessment to all Fusion Centers around the country, saying ThisCantBeHappening! had published an article exposing the Homeland Security’s central role in orchestrating the wave of local police violence against Occupy encampments across the country.

The conclusion, hard to avoid, is that the FBI and Justice Department are playing a double game when it comes to terrorism. On one hand they have been aggressively pursuing a campaign of entrapment and outright incitement, actively promoting and assisting in the development of bogus terror plots by naive or mentally unbalanced individuals, so that they can later “bust” those plots, thereby justifying their expansive police-state tactics while keeping the public in a constant state of fear. On the other hand, they are either turning a blind eye towards genuine plots aimed against activists and radical protests, such as the one “identified” in Houston in the fall of 2011, or worse, are maybe actively involved in the development of those plots, which they then do not prosecute or prevent from happening.

This is something we need to keep in mind as we watch the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the only surviving suspect or witness in the Boston Marathon bombing — an actual terrorism act that has many rational people wondering how much the government knew in advance, and others wondering or were just patsies who were set up to look that way.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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