“A year-long investigation by Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC-Berkeley explores the network of thousands of informants the FBI employs in its domestic counter-terrorism program, operating in gray area where the snitches don’t merely observe and report, but actively push their targets (in many cases hapless losers who never would have acted otherwise) to pursue their darkest fantasies. In the process, MoJo created a searchable database of 508 terror prosecutions.”
Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference announcing another foiled plot.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.
Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice.