Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday directly responded to criticism that the FBI’s domestic anti-terrorism practices are overly aggressive, discriminatory, and amount to entrapment.
Speaking at an event of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights groups, Holder defended the federal government’s use of planted undercover agents who infiltrate Muslim communities and help devise fake terrorism plots. In the most recent instance, a young Muslim convert named Antonio Martinez was identified as a possible terrorist because of updates he made on his Facebook wall. An FBI agent posed as an accomplish, helped Martinez design and execute a plan to bomb a military recruiting office in Baltimore and then arrested the young man when he tried to detonate the fake bomb.
Holder called the use of undercover plants “a critical and frequently used law enforcement tool that has helped identify and defuse public safety threats such as those posed by potential terrorists, drug dealers and child pornographers for decades.”
“Those who characterize the FBI’s activities in this case as ‘entrapment,’ ” he said, “simply do not have their facts straight—or do not have a full understanding of the law.”
But speaking to the Washington Post, Farhana Khera, the director of Muslim Advocates, which invited Holder to speak before its 300-person gathering, said the practices “divert precious law enforcement resources from actual threats and have the effect of stoking anti-Muslim sentiments.”
Muslim Advocates is currently pursuing in a Freedom of Information Act suit against the Justice Department to uncover information about the FBI’s investigation practices. The organizations’ decision to invite Holder to speak at their event came in September when the country was embroiled in brutal Islamophobic mud slinging over the Park51 center in New York. The Islamic cultural center was called the “Ground Zero mosque” by rightwing pundits. The group had hoped the attorney general would help extinguish the flames that ignited a rash of hate crimes against Muslims and attacks on mosques at the time.
But Holder instead defended the FBI’s practice. According to Holder, “Since 2001, more than 400 individuals have been convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related violations in federal courts. And in those terrorism cases where undercover sting operations have been used, there is a lengthy record of convictions.”
Yet, as I wrote previously, a recent Democracy Now! investigation found that in many of these cases, no actual terrorist plot or ties to terrorist organizations existed before FBI agents helped devise them. Nonetheless, most of those pulled into FBI investigations are convicted. Speaking to Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat in October, Karen Greenberg of the NYU Center for Law and Security explained, “The conviction rate for cases that involve informants is almost 100 percent.” But according to James Wedick, a former FBI agent, “90 percent of the cases that you see that have occurred in the last 10 years are garbage.”