My first thought on hearing about the attempted bombing of Portland's living room was 'I wonder how much of this was the boy's idea, and how much the FBI's idea? My next, he must be mentally ill. I first learned of this via the Mayor's blog post via his Facebook feed. At least his headline made clear from the beginning that people were never actually under any real threat: The bomb was a fake but the suspect thought it was real.
My first concerns were that the facts of this situation might never be truly available to us, it would certainly be distorted in the media to fortify calls for greater security, it would fortify the continued erosion of civil rights, and it would be difficult for this young man to get a fair trial. More concerns tumbled through my head, like, isn't it convenient that this great threat comes on the heels of several weeks of protest over the implementation of full body scans or full body pat-downs at airports? No doubt it will be used to shut people up. And oh yeah, wikileaks has published more embarrassing duplicitous stuff by government officials. Could this be a wag the dog event? While the world looks at the US Embassy cables and gets mad, will Americans be caught up in this home terrorist threat?
As the fallout news shakes out, I begin to realize this could have been a very calculated wag the dog event. Five years ago, thanks to the persistent voices of activists on the street and in city hall, and a rational liberal mayor, Portland said no to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. No, the city would no longer share its police officers with the FBI in a task force that pushed the limits of civil rights. Now, the voices are rising for it. Could it be the FBI never forgave Portland for pulling out? These two news stories are becoming one and the same.
My wish to know more about just what part the FBI played, and what part the young man played, was quickly fulfilled. At least a couple of friends in my social networks shared the link to the original affidavit. From this I learned that this seems to be a teenage misanthropic fantasy only allowed to come to apparent fruition through the encouragement of the FBI agents. Young Mohamed Osman Mohamud allegedly had email contact with someone based in Pakistan that allegedly used coded words regarding his willingness "to prepare for violent jihad." His attempt to contact a second "Unindicted Associate" failed. After that, the FBI contacted him, pretending to be a third associate to numbers 1 and 2.
The undercover FBI agents gave Mohamed several options. Multiple choice. I thought, would this boy even have gone this far without those choices made concrete? Before this, he had vague notions of going to the Middle East, and going to Alaska to earn big money so he could go to the Middle East, but he was unable to do either. Without the suggestions by the FBI, might someone have noticed he was emotionally disturbed, and got help for him? What he needed then was compassion. He certainly needed to be watched carefully, but he didn't need someone to give him a road map to dark fantasy fulfillment.
It seemed to me the agents rounded him into a corner (you can't join up overseas, you're on the no-fly list) and gave him a clear route out to his dark desires. The affidavit makes this sound so reasonable, like they never led the young man to these choices, that he just stepped in this pile of shit of his own free will. But I wonder, what kind of body indicators were they giving them as they asked? What subtle hints in intonation? Choice number 1 was praying 5 times a day, and number 4 to become "operational." A young man has finally met his heroes (he thinks) and he wants to impress them, right?
So then, the FBI agents lead him down a path. They have a blueprint for action, and they tell him what they need to fill in the blanks. It's like Mad Libs for terrorists. OK, we need an action. He comes back with a dramatic one, bomb the tree-lighting crowd in Portland. Oh, that's good! Now, how do you want to do this? More dark drama, the more dramatic the better...kill the women and children. Video games, movies, rap, they all call for the dramatic. He wants a bomb, a big bomb? Well, then he needs to buy this stuff. They give him the money for the stuff. (Only a portion of the supplies actually needed for a bomb.) They give him the money for a hotel to hide out. The FBI builds the "bomb." The FBI provides the van, and the strategic plan. More blanks for him to fill in: a map with several possibilities for the "bomb"-loaded van to park. The FBI makes sure the parking spot is available. He has to drive the van, but he doesn't have to get himself to a remote location. The FBI can do that. Final blank to fill in: he must make the phone call to trigger the "bomb".
So the news is that a bomb threat was foiled. The FBI narrowly prevented a tragedy. "The bottom line of all this is that the FBI saved Portland from a potentially horrendous attack." No...the bottom line of all this is that we are seeing myths created before our eyes. There was never a real threat to the festive tree-lighting event in Portland. There was no real bomb threat to be foiled or narrowly prevented. A young man who had adolescent fantasies of destruction was fed fantasy fulfillment, and given experts, money, and a clutter-free path to give it a form bigger than he'd probably ever imagined on his own.
Further reading supports my fears. Salon shares that the crucial conversation, in which Mohamed chooses from five options, is missing, that there were technical difficulties. Really? Scarily convenient. We'll never know how unequivocal he was about it now, will we? I learn also this Mad Lib for Wanna-Be Terrorists has happened before. It looks like you could have quite a bit of reading, if you care, at this link to a Truthout story on that. Indeed, my Portland pacifist friend reminds us that it's not even the first time in Portland that the FBI has cooked up some completely false allegations.
I am not trying to say this is entrapment according to the law; I have no idea. I was surprised to find from the Salon article that the multiple choice options are to address that very concern, when to me it seems the very options put the ideas into an impressionable young man's head. But what about the people who will say I am making excuses for terrorists? I feel sorry for Mohamed Osman Mohamud. It may be he is a dangerous person. If the cherry-picked statements regarding his wish to kill families and children are to be believed, he is a scary person. I only hope he gets a fair trial, and I regret that it already appears his case exists to fulfill fears of terrorists and to encourage the loss of civil rights.