Methods questioned in investigation leading up to Sears Tower arrests
Jennifer Van Bergen
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Thursday June 29, 2006
Critics are voicing concern about the FBI’s use of informants, methodology, and alleged pattern of entrapment in relation to the arrests last week of seven Miami men for having allegedly plotted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and federal buildings in other cities, RAW STORY has learned.
The Liberty Seven case, named after the Miami area in which they were arrested, shows a striking resemblance to the California McDavid case, in which an independent “confidential informant” was also used – a woman by the name of Anna.
As previously reported by RAW STORY, Anna had infiltrated a group that, by all accounts, was non-violent prior to her arrival:
“In January 2006, Eric McDavid, Lauren Weiner, and Zachary Jenson were arrested in California and charged with knowingly conspiring to use fire or explosives to damage property. Their arrest was the direct result of work by Anna, who was 'deeply embedded within the subjects' cell,' according to FBI documents.”
“However, McDavid's attorney, Mark Reichel, states that Anna was always pushing McDavid to do something criminal, taught the three how to make the bombs, supervised their activities, and repeatedly threatened to leave them if they didn't start doing 'something.'"
In the Liberty City/Miami case, an undercover operative was also used, although this person was purportedly with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Nonetheless, the case has raised similar concerns in the community about the propriety of such law enforcement actions.
Defense attorney Nathan Clark of Miami, appointed by the court to represent Rotschild Augustine, one of the “Liberty City Seven” defendants, states: “On the face of the indictment alone, this is a classic case of entrapment. Every activity deemed criminal in this case was written, directed, and produced by the government.”
Homegrown Terrorism or Made-for-TV Event?
Upon the arrests of the seven men, Federal officials claimed a victory against homegrown terrorism. The suspects are all black men from “Liberty City,” part of a community called “Little Haiti” in Miami. Five of the men are American citizens, one is a Haitian resident alien, and the seventh is an illegal Haitian immigrant.
The Liberty City men are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Under conspiracy law, no actual crime needs to have been committed for the defendants to be found guilty of conspiring to commit the underlying crime. Only an agreement to commit the crime is necessary for conviction. The government alleges that the suspects agreed to “provide personnel, including themselves, to work under al Qaeda’s direction and control.”
Yet prior to the arrival of the FBI informant, the group allegedly had no plan or interest in attacking anyone or anything.
Max Rameau, spokesperson for the group CopWatch, notes that “Top brass in the FBI itself think these guys were not much more than amateur wannabes who posed no real danger to anyone, except themselves. The raid made a big media splash while taking attention away from other developments,” such as recent revelations that the Administration had been spying on financial records using a Belgian-based company not subject to U.S. privacy laws.
Rameau says that the Liberty City Seven coverage has upstaged other important news. In a conversation with RAW STORY earlier this week, he said that on the day of the Liberty City arrests, “a former director of the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) admitted to planning terrorist acts against Cuba.”
Yet this “failed either to draw national attention or merit ‘above the fold’ coverage on the front page of the Miami Herald,” said Rameau.
The CANF conspirators were charged and acquitted by a Puerto Rican jury in 1997, after a federal judge threw out one of the defendants' self-incriminating statements. No charges have ever been brought against the individuals on the U.S. mainland.
Rameau notes that while the government has taken action against "men with little to no demonstrable capacity to advance their plans beyond the discussion stage,” it has refused to extradite – or prosecute – Luis Posada, suspected mastermind of the bombing of a Cuban airliner “full of human beings” in 1976.
The arrests also came at a time when reports of a covert U.S. program to search bank records of citizens have created blowback for the Administration.
The government’s actions, Rameau claims, exhibit “a double standard in the war on terror, characterized by the selective prosecution of groups with minimal social and political value.”
Rameau further notes that the raid “was timed to happen at the exact same time that FBI Director Robert Mueller was on the Larry King Show. It was a made-for-TV event.”
Legal scholars and civil liberties advocates also have criticized the Liberty City Seven case. In general, the material support provision – conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization – has been widely challenged by lawyers and several courts have found portions of it unconstitutional.
Federal attorneys, however, cite the war on terror as having changed how the Department of Justice handles such cases.
“Terrorism is a whole different ballgame,” the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Guy Lewis, told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in discussing the arrests: “The Justice Department’s mission went from being reactive . . . to being proactive. Prevention is now the number one priority.”
But former Miami ACLU chapter chair Lida Rodriguez-Taseff sees this case much differently, telling the Sun Sentinel that “These men look like a bunch of fools doing God-knows-what. They’re certainly not the picture of the homegrown terrorist that Timothy McVeigh was.”
Jack Lieberman – a Miami activist, a member of South Florida Peace and Justice Network (a coalition of roughly twenty separate South Florida peace and justice groups), and a member of a Haiti democratic support group called Haiti Solidarity – told RAW STORY: “For the government to infiltrate a small ineffectual group that was involved in little more than ‘trash talk,’ provide it with money, leadership (the agent's claim to be Al Qaeda), and a plan, and then claim it has caught dangerous ‘domestic terrorists,’ is a sham designed to sucker the American people into supporting them.”
Both the South Florida Peace and Justice Network and Haiti Solidarity plan to protest the arrests of the Liberty City men.
Informant Methods Questioned
As with the infamous Anna, whose methods were described as using seduction and "identifying 'radical' young men and women and 'getting them' to fall in love with her," the methods used by the informant in the Liberty City seven case are also in question.
According to the indictment, “an individual known to the Grand Jury who was purporting to be a member of a foreign terrorist organization later identified as al Qaeda” infiltrated the ragtag group.
The individual was not otherwise identified in the indictment, but a Justice Department press release stated that the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) was responsible for the arrests.
While the JTTF is comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, joint operations such as the Liberty City one, are conducted under guidelines issued by the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, for the FBI.
The indictment states that the seven men swore oaths of loyalty to al Qaeda – whether at the behest of the “al Qaeda representative” or spontaneously is unclear – ordered various supplies from him, revealed to him their “mission” to build an “Islamic Army,” and plotted to destroy the Sears Tower, bomb FBI buildings, and wage a “full ground war” against the United States in order to “kill all the devils we can.”
In the opinion of Bob Moss, an independent researcher who has been investigating and cataloging government terrorist cases, the FBI infiltrator “spoon-fed” the men “every step.” Moss tells RAW STORY that the informant gave the alleged ring-leader, Narseal Batiste, a video camera, with which Batiste promised to obtain “good footage.” A week later, Batiste asked the “al Qaeda representative” for a van so he could get the footage. Moss concluded that it was “more likely that the impatient informant pressed Batiste for the ‘good footage,’ and Batiste replied by saying he needed a van.”
The next day, the informant accompanied Batiste and another individual to purchase a memory chip for their camera. Moss states cynically, “Either the plotters couldn’t buy a memory chip unsupervised or they just didn’t do anything without being pushed by the informant.”
Moss found it laughable that the “only actual act” done to further the alleged Sears Tower attack was to “’take possession’ of an unspecified number of military boots from the informant.” While the indictment lists twenty-six overt acts, involving mostly planning meetings and trips, Rameau – noting there were no explosives or supplies which could be used to make explosives – asks “What were they going to do, kick the FBI building down with their new boots?”
Nathan Clark tells RAW STORY that the defendants “never had the manner or means to do anything.”
FBI Violating the Guidelines for Undercover Operations?
According to the Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Undercover Operations (UO Guidelines), because undercover techniques “inherently involve an element of deception and may require cooperation with persons whose motivation and conduct are open to question,” they “should be carefully considered and monitored.”
Undercover operations may be used to prevent crimes as well as to solve or prosecute crimes, according to the UO Guidelines. But the Guidelines clearly prohibit entrapment: “Entrapment must be scrupulously avoided. Entrapment occurs when the Government implants in the mind of a person who is not otherwise disposed to commit the offense the disposition to commit the offense and then induces the commission of that offense in order to prosecute.”
Even more specifically, the UO Guidelines state: “The undercover employee shall be instructed in the law of entrapment.”
“In Britain, the King can do no wrong,” say Clark, “but here the King can do wrong. The Guidelines are frequently broken.”
A spokesperson for the FBI told RAW STORY: “We are not saying anything not already said at our press conference or in our press release.” Justice Department officials had not returned calls by press time. U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta states in the DOJ press release that the group “had the intent and took several steps toward fulfilling their plan” but “the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force successfully performed its mission to prevent terrorism by identifying, disrupting and prosecuting these individuals before they posted an immediate threat to our nation.”
FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole remarked in the same press release that the arrests marked “yet another important victory in the war on terrorism,” underscoring “the need for continued vigilance and cooperation.”
Jennifer Van Bergen is a freelance journalist and an attorney. Her book “The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America” is available on Amazon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.