- ON the steps of New York city hall on Friday, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, praised the police officers and federal agents who helped disrupt an apparent terrorist plot to blow up a synagogue and shoot down military aircraft.
The mayor was flanked by more than 100 homeland security and counter-terrorist specialists, all of whom had a hand in an elaborate sting that netted four alleged Muslim extremists. Their plan, according to FBI agents, was to detonate a “fireball that would make the country gasp”.
The operation was acclaimed by New York officials for its success in averting what David Paterson, the state governor, described as “a heinous crime”.
Yet not every New Yorker was impressed by the latest in a long line of purported anti-terrorist triumphs that have supposedly averted tragedy in New York, Chicago, Toronto and several other North American cities since September 11, 2001.
“This whole operation was a foolish waste of time and money,” claimed Terence Kindlon, a defence lawyer who represented the last terror suspect to be tried in New York state. “It is almost as if the FBI cooked up the plot and found four idiots to install as defendants.”
Kindlon’s complaints were echoed by other legal experts who have repeatedly questioned the FBI’s reliance on undercover informants – known as confidential witnesses (CWs) – who lure gullible radicals into far-fetched plots that are then foiled by the agents monitoring them.
The last such plot purportedly involved an alleged attempt to blow up a fuel pipeline at John F Kennedy airport in New York in 2007; the defendants are awaiting trial in a case that depends heavily on evidence from an undercover CW.
“One question [about the synagogue case] that has to be answered is: did the informant go in and enlist people who were otherwise not considering trouble ?” said Kevin Luibrand, who represented a Muslim businessman caught up in another FBI sting three years ago. “Did the government induce someone to commit a crime?”
The other question that US security experts were debating was how much had been achieved by assigning more than 100 agents to a year-long investigation of three petty criminals and a mentally ill Haitian immigrant, none of whom had any connection with any known terrorist group. “They were all unsophisticated dimwits,” said Kindlon.