Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 27, 2010

TERROR PLOT THWARTED IN OREGON.... We've seen a fair number of incidents like these in recent years, and every time they occur, I'm reminded to be thankful for the effectiveness of law enforcement officials, who have a strong track record.

Federal agents in a sting operation arrested a Somali-born teenager just as he tried blowing up a van he believed was loaded with explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, authorities said.

The bomb was an elaborate fake supplied by the agents and the public was never in danger, authorities said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5:40 p.m. Friday just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would set off the blast but instead brought federal agents and police swooping down on him.

As the AP's report explained, the plot was months in the making, and the would-be terrorist, a naturalized American citizen, was dead serious about his intentions. Mohamud fully expected to commit mass murder, and rebuffed opportunities to back out. Fortunately, he was dealing with undercover FBI agents from the outset.

"The threat was very real," said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. "Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale."

Friday, an agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.

They left the van near the downtown ceremony site and went to a train station where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the vehicle, according to the complaint. There was no detonation when he dialed, and when he tried again federal agents and police made their move.

Congratulations are, of course, in order for all the officials involved. Success stories like these are heartening. I'd also note similar successes, which played in nearly identical ways.

As for the larger context, stories like these are yet another reminder about the nature of effective counter-terrorism. For years, Republicans insisted that combating terrorism was a matter of military might, and any suggestions to the contrary were evidence of weakness. Democrats have countered that keeping Americans safe also meant relying on intelligence gathering and law enforcement -- because the White House isn't exactly going to send a marine battalion into Portland.

Also note, Mohamed Osman Mohamud was identified, approached, apprehended, and charged, all without torturing anyone. Playing by the rules and preventing terror need not be in conflict.

The AP added that Mohamud has been charged with the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, "which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison." The accused will make his first court appearance on Monday.

Here's hoping Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney resist the urge to whine about his appearing in an American criminal court.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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For years, Republicans insisted that combating terrorism was a matter of military might, and any suggestions to the contrary were evidence of weakness.

Actually, he was identified by a NSA intercept of a telephone call to a jihadi in another country. That was the Bush program attacked by your guys.

Remember ?

Posted by: Mike K on November 27, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

I would caution Mr. Benen against similarly rushing to judgment.

Leaving aside the fact that there remains a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the facts at this point are entirely one-sided.

Over the past 10+ years, we have seen a wide-range in the quality of law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts. We have seen real dangers stopped by highly-competent professionals. We've seen bungling. And we've seen deliberate efforts to deceive (go back and look at the initial press conference re: Jose Padilla and see how many allegations were actually proven to be true).

There have been a number of FBI investigations that were actual or near entrapment. Did the suspect really mean to go through with it? Was it really his idea in the first place? Was he really given multiple opportunities to back out? We should find out the answers over time rather than taking every government claim at face value.

Posted by: square1 on November 27, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Here's hoping Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney resist the urge to whine about his appearing in an American criminal court.
Here's hoping they whine about it extensively in the comfort of their own homes, and none of the rest of us have to hear about it. Or hear their names again for the next decade, for that matter.

Posted by: OldK on November 27, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

God Mike K your full of shit. How do you know how the guy was first spotted. Your such a douchebag you have no idea how the guy was tagged. And square1 why can't your reading comprehension rise up to that of a third grader? I detect no rush to judgement in Steve's relating of the story.

Posted by: Gandalf` on November 27, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Portland is a very tolerant and progressive West Coast city. To plot mayhem and death in such a city really shows the hatred carried by individuals who ascribe themselves to destructive fundamentalism - no matter the form of fundamentalism!

But alas, being Somali-born, this perp will serve as yet another banner child for the likes of bigots Mankin, O'Reilly, Beck, Palin and all those other Fundamentalists over at FOX and in the Tea Party!

Me thinks a few other nonSomali-born Americans have recently proved intolerant (Escondido bomb-making, and two threats upon our President's life), yet this story out of Portland will no doubt dominate the news-cycle now that the media can re-establish the us v. them meme! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 27, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

This story doesn't add up.

It's so much like a drug bust that I'm convinced that the feds actually make things worse.

Catching drug dealers selling potent heroin is one thing. Fooling a young deluded man is another.

Fake bomb?

The FBI is proud of this?


Posted by: Tom Nicholson on November 27, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Well, we should all remain thankful we don't have McCain and "The Whore of Babblin' On" in office, or we'd be attacking and invading our 3rd or 4th country. Let's see, there was the underwear guy, the Times Square guy, now this thankfully hapless schmuck. Unless a couple of them were from the same country, that's at least 3.

Oh, and Mike K, listen Dipshit, long before "Little Boots" decided he was "The Decider" and decided to break laws when monitoring calls, there was NOTHING to prevent the NSA from lisening-in and acting on calls from any place in the ENTIRE WORLD! All it took was a court order from a judge, which, if memory serves me right, was only refused a handful of times in 30+ years.
Any response? I mean, one that makes sense in a logical world, not FOX World!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 27, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

It looks to me like the FBI engaged with a seriously disturbed and disaffected young man, and coached him to the point where he took action, going so far as to provide him with the (false) mechanism by which he thought he was going to commit the act.

So you have one young man, and a whole team of agents pushing him along for months. And who exactly is the terrorist group?

Posted by: Holden Pattern on November 27, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

The level of entrapment and provocation here was clearly high, even though it is a safe bet that the feds are downplaying that as much as they think they can get away with. Even assuming the allegations are true, there is no way for us to know, at least now, if this kid would ever have been a danger without the feds energetically fanning the flames.

Posted by: Ken D. on November 27, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Don't get your panties in a bunch, Gandalf.

I merely "cautioned" Benen because he stated the FBI's claims as facts when they may or may not ultimately be borne out.

Posted by: square1 on November 27, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

The article paraphrases Mohamud as saying that he had wanted to commit terrorist acts since he was 15. Sure is a good thing we didn't waste any money on mental-health programs back during the last administration.

Posted by: paul on November 27, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Watch "The Shock Doctrine" or read it (by Naomi Klein) and you will be questioning the meaning of terrorism...and its instigators.

Posted by: winddancer on November 27, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

I'm waiting to find out who the presumptive financiers of this plot are. Something just doesn't smell right!

Posted by: tommy harper on November 27, 2010 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Here's hoping Rudy Giuliani and Liz Cheney will be appearing in an American criminal court.

Fixed it for you!

Posted by: Trollop on November 27, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Corvallis, OR, Mohamud's hometown. I have just talked with a couple of recent high school grads, who say he has been talking about bombs and mass murder for some years. To suggest that the FBI egged this person on seems misguided to me. From what I've read, they made "assistance" available to him, but also pointed out, on more than one occasion, the terrible human toll that would result from his plans.

When a person is determined to do something like this, they will probably succeed to some degree or another if law enforcement agencies do not intervene. In this case, I feel bad for the man, but I'm glad he will be removed from society and incarcerated. I have no idea what his motivations were, or whether he's mentally ill, or what the situation is. But first, I want him locked away and kept harmless. Evaluation and treatment can be determined later. In the meantime, my thanks to the FBI and other groups who defused a potential disaster.

Posted by: Lockwood on November 27, 2010 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Whenever I hear about the federal government catching this one or that one or this plot or that plot, I immediately think of Waco and Randy Weaver. I've become so dubious about anything our government says they have done to save us from disaster because as dumb as it sounds, I really would like us to be the "good guys".

Posted by: Schtick on November 27, 2010 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Bleh. And what was the ratio of -- presumably mature and well trained -- agents provocateur to this testosterone driven 19yr old? Maybe he should have been clapped into a US equivalent of Bedlam when he was 15 and started spouting about his dream to wreak havoc; I don't know enough to say different. But most teens - even in their late teens -- are both: hot-headed *and* malleable. Most want to "belong" and will give in to peer pressure easily. Especially when their self-esteem has been pumped up to think that their "peers" are people 10-or-more years their seniors.

Posted by: exlibra on November 27, 2010 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

While one has to congratulate the FBI and other authorities for preventing a possible tragedy, one wonders why they had to go through all this effort.

Given that he was a "lone wolf" with no ties to any organization, there was no ringleader or "Mr Big" to reel in, just one big talking, misguided moron with no resources to actually pull off any sort of terrorist attack, why not simply make a visit to the potential culprit telling him that they're aware of his proclivities and letting him know he's being watched?

Of course, that wouldn't make headlines and justify the huge budgets of our national security apparatus.

Posted by: Steve on November 27, 2010 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

I just want to know if this was all a set up and the FBI, after arranging everything, just looked until they found someone mad enough and radical enough to go along with the 'plan', and then well-la,,,came busting down on their patsy.

Just saying...would this suspect have even been operating without the FBI's "involvement"?

Posted by: bjobotts on November 27, 2010 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

What makes you think this was an actual, verifiable case of terrorism? By any real measure? Unless that kid would have and could have done and did do this without federal encouragement, equipment and complicity, it's not terrorism: it's just a sham to a) keep you afraid in order to justify over-the-line security measures, and b) convince you there actually is an ongoing threat out there.

On the face of it, it's entrapment. Indications are that internal docs will show the plot was invented, promulgated and put forward by the feds -- not by the kid. Again, not terrorism. Not, that is, unless you're willing to state the obvious, that federal operations are designed to keep you afraid, to spread terror by literally manufacturing plots, manufacturing fake bombs, and pulling in some patsy in order to manufacture 'terrorism'. More COINTELPRO.

Steve, if you're trying to score political points for Obama to try and show he's getting something done while Bush captured nobody on American soil, this post is an epic fail. Fake plot, fake bomb, fake threat -- fake capture of fake terrorist. Hell, even the kid could be an American operative. It's so patently obvious that it makes you seem eager to carry water for the status quo, rather than point out what everybody knows; the emperor still has no clothes, and this is just kabuki theater to convey the impression something's being done to 'keep Americans safe'.

Posted by: ystorl on November 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

And, it should be noted, the target was NOT an airplane! Woohoo! TSA protects us from tiger attacks, yet AGAIN!

Because even a dumbass terrorist inside the USA knows that there are far softer targets, even without body scans and junk-touching added on.

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki on November 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

BFD. The FBI is great at uncovering plots it concocts in the first place.

Posted by: artark on November 28, 2010 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Wake up: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/11/28/fbi

Posted by: Patchwick on November 28, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm just glad I can sleep peacefully at night -- and that my big brother goverment is watching out for the safety of US... US Citizens!

thank you thank you thank you


Posted by: Suzanne on January 16, 2011 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK



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